Thursday, March 22, 2012

Abuse in the Dutch Catholic Church: A Selection of Articles from a Reader

In response to my posting a few days ago about the castration of teens and young men in Catholic institutions in the Netherlands after they had reported sexual abuse by priests (and as a "cure" for homosexuality), a reader called Guestbloggy has provided an extremely valuable assortment of further news stories and analysis to complement what I initially posted.  Guestbloggy also provided some of these links in response to my story the day before the Dutch story about bullying of SNAP by Catholic officials.

I encourage readers interested in this material to go back to the two preceding posts and read Guestbloggy's comments in toto.  They're very instructive, and provide a helpful summary of the salient points in each of the following news stories.  In order to make the news stories themselves more accessible to readers, I've extracted the links this reader included in his or her comments, and am now listing them below.

Note that these links also provide the backstory to the recent story of castrations in Catholic facilities in the Netherlands--many of them point back to the revelations about abuse in Dutch Catholic institutions of the preceding year, a larger story in which the latest news about castrations is situated.

Here they are: 

A very selective selection of excerpts from some of the preceding articles--focusing entirely on the most recent story of castrations in Dutch Catholic facilities, and not on the backstory outlined in the first several links in the list:

Robert Chesal's "Time for Truth" article:

The bigger picture is this: Victor Marijnen [i.e., vice-chair of the Dutch Catholic child protection agency and director of Harreveld boarding school attended by Henk Heithuis] was just one member of a wider elite of Catholic notables who wielded vast power in the 1950s. They were captains of industry, chairmen of commissions, judges, high-ranking civil servants and politicians. And it was through this old boys network that abuse at Harreveld and other Roman Catholic institutions was covered up. 
In short, the Harreveld castration story reveals collusion between institutions, bishops, politicians, the police and the justice system that enabled sexual abuse in the church to continue unpunished for decades on end.

The "Castration 'Nothing Unusual'" piece:

According to figures quoted by the Volkskrant, at least 400 men were castrated up until 1968. 40% were thought to be homosexuals. A large number were repeat sex offenders who had abused children under 16. The distinction between gay and paedophile was not made in those days. 
There was another group who ended up in the psychiatric wards: the boys who were sent there by a priest. Chances were that they would end up talking to psychiatrist Aimé Wijffels who specialised in castration, so much so that he became known nationally as ‘the castrator’. Wijffels himself claimed he did not castrate more than 35 men. Koolhaas doubts very much whether this is true. ‘There must have more than 1,000’, he tells the paper.

For what it's worth, here's my thinking about the "castration nothing unusual" angle: it's certainly true that,  over the course of history, practices once regarded as either morally neutral or even morally praiseworthy can begin to be regarded as morally reprehensible.  As the descendant of families who held other human beings as chattel in the system of slavery that was legal in the U.S. up to the mid-1860s, I know full well that societies shift their moral thinking--they change their moral minds--about issues regarding which there previously was a very different moral understanding.

And those "caught" by history in these changes (e.g., my ancestors, and white Southerners right up to the 1960s) frequently try to argue, in response, that what they've been doing can't have been so very bad, when all of society once held the very positions now being morally condemned.  There's something to that argument, but it also needs to be said very emphatically that arguments about how society once viewed a certain behavior can't be used to defuse a growing moral consensus that this behavior is now unethical.

And there's a way in which those who engage in practices which later come to be seen as morally heinous are, indeed, guilty.  Though I'm not directly guilty of the sin of my ancestors who held slaves, I'm guilty insofar as I bear the burden of an historical legacy of guilt, with which it is incumbent on me to deal in my adult life, when I become aware of what slavery implied.  Which it is incumbent on me to reverse, insofar as one can reverse the past through one's present behavior . . . .

Even in the many centuries in which human beings held other human beings in bondage legally, there were, after all, many reasons to consider the practice of slavery morally abhorrent.  There were more than a few glimmers of moral awareness that reducing other human beings to the status of mute animals and objects via slavery is morally reprehensible.

Just as there have always been more than a few intimations that castrating people or performing other serious surgeries or medical interventions on them without their consent is morally dubious.  Or that taking young people who have been sexually abused and who then report their abuse to authorities and subjecting them to a "cure" like castration seems beyond punitive.

It seems downright atrociously cruel.  And when one thinks that those engaging in such behavior were Catholic authority figures, who read the gospels . . . . 

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