Friday, December 16, 2011

Report on Abuse in Catholic Institutions in the Netherlands Issued: One of Highest Rates of Abuse Yet

A report by an independent commission in the Netherlands probing cases of sexual abuse of children in Catholic institutions since 1945 has just been issued.  Wim Deetman, mayor of The Hague, who headed the commission producing this report, states that the investigation shows as many as 20,000 children suffering abuse in Catholic institutions in the Netherlands in this time frame--one of the highest rates of abuse yet to emerge in any report of its kind.  

The Dutch bishops are stating that they deplore the abuse, and have done too little to address it.  The report itself charges the Dutch bishops and the Vatican with having demonstrated more concern for the image of the church than for children abused by those overseeing and working in Catholic institutions.    

The eminent authority on Catholic institutional sexual abuse of minors and advocate for abuse survivors, Fr. Thomas Doyle, has told the Dutch media that the shockingly high incidence of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic authority figures, particularly by priests, is rooted in a "narcissistic spirituality" that stems from the belief of priests and bishops that they are somehow better than others, due to their clerical status.  Doyle states,

Celibacy in itself doesn’t have to lead to rape. But it can give priests and bishops the idea that they are somehow on a higher spiritual plane. That narcissistic spirituality is the dark side of the church, the idea that you are better than others. 
They set themselves up to be a-sexual beings and that is how they are perceived, by their victims as well. That is what made it such a terrible and lonely experience for them: how could a priest sin? It was inconceivable so nobody believed them. The damage these people suffered at the hands of people who were supposed to be paragons of virtue is incalculable.

As leading Dutch journalist Robert Chesal, who has done much to uncover the abuse story in the Dutch Catholic church, notes, when inklings of the depth of abuse of children in Catholic institutions in the Netherlands began to come to light last year, the top Catholic official of the nation, Cardinal Simonis, hardly helped salvage the moral credibility of the church when he sought to deny that the nation's Catholic bishops had been aware of what was going on.  And, as he did so, he certainly didn't help matters when he used a phrase laden with historical overtones from the Nazi period: Wir haben es nicht gewusst.  "We knew nothing about nothing"--the perennial refrain of those who aided and abetted the Nazis in their mass murder of the Jews, after the Nazis' crimes came to light.

As Chesal notes, Cardinal Simonis's case was not made stronger when it came out, months following his statement, that he himself had transferred a pedophile priest from parish to parish, permitting him access to more children whom he abused.

As I noted yesterday, the hierarchy and its apologists have now lost the moral center in public discourse about the abuse crisis.  Empty apologies, post factum laments, shoddy and deceptive image-management promises to address the situation while priests like Father Ratigan in Kansas City continue to be sheltered, kept from criminal action, and moved about to places where they can have further contact with children: none of this will save the institution now.

The salvation of the institution clearly lies in addressing that spirituality of narcissism and the clericalist presuppositions of superiority and entitlement on which it is based.  I predict that more and more public discourse will now be directed to a critique of the ugly heart of darkness--to the clerical system--from which the abuse crisis and its cover-up have proceeded.  (And, for my part, I very seriously doubt that more hugely expensive papal spectacles with media brouhaha about screaming throngs of true believers will bring about the systemic reform the Catholic church obviously and sorely needs.)

The graphic is a childhood and adult side-by-side photograph of abuse survivor Janne Geraets, who suffered repeated abuse in the 1960s from a Salesian priest at the monastery of Don Rua in 's-Heerenberg.

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