THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Thousands of children suffered sexual abuse in Dutch Catholic institutions over the past 65 years, and church officials knew about the abuse but failed to stop it or help victims because they feared sparking scandals, according to a long-awaited report released yesterday.
The report also estimated that one in 10 Dutch children suffered some form of sexual abuse more broadly in society.
The findings detailed some of the most widespread abuse yet linked to the Catholic church, which has been under fire for years over abuse allegations in multiple countries including the United States. The Dutch probe prompted the archbishop of Utrecht to apologise to victims on behalf of the entire Dutch Catholic organisation, saying the report "fills us with shame and sorrow".
The abuse ranged from "unwanted sexual advances" to rape, the report said. Abusers numbered in the hundreds, at least, and included priests, brothers, pastors and lay people who worked in religious orders and congregations. The number of abuse victims who spent some of their youth in church institutions likely lies somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000, according to the probe, which went back as far as 1945.
The commission behind the investigation was set up last year under the leadership of former government minister Wim Deetman, who said there could be no doubt church leaders knew of the problem. "The idea that people did not know there was a risk... is untenable," he said.
Deetman said abuse continued in part because the Catholic church in the Netherlands was splintered, so bishops and religious orders sometimes worked autonomously to deal with abuse and "did not hang out their dirty laundry". However, he said the commission concluded that "it is wrong to talk of a culture of silence" by the church as a whole.