AMSTERDAM, (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of children have been victims of sexual abuse by the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands since 1945, an independent commission said today, criticising what it called the church’s cover-up and cultural silence.
The commission estimated that 10,000 to 20,000 minors were sexually abused while in the care of Catholic institutions such as orphanages, boarding schools and seminaries, between 1945 and 1981, with offences ranging from the very mild to the serious, including rape. After 1981 there were few church-run homes for minors.
It also said that from the end of World War Two until 2010, “several tens of thousands of minors were subjected to mild, serious and very serious forms of inappropriate sexual behaviour in the Roman Catholic Church”.
But it said sexual abuse was no more prevalent in Catholic institutions than in similar ones run by other groups.
“Sexual abuse of minors is widespread in Dutch society,” the commission said.
Abuse by Catholic priests, laymen and laywomen was systematically covered up by the church to protect its reputation, the commission said, adding that the church was guilty of “inadequate supervision” and “inadequate action”.
The findings appear to paint a picture of wider abuse in the Netherlands even than in Ireland, in a scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church in Europe and the United States and forced Pope Benedict to apologise to victims of sexual abuse by priests.
The investigation was commissioned by the Conference of Bishops and the Dutch Religious Conference in 2010 after cases surfaced involving paedophile priests in the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Germany, Australia, Canada and the United States.
“The (religious) orders were dealing with cases. The idea that people did not know it and administrators did not know it cannot be maintained,” said Wim Deetman, a Protestant former education minister and former mayor of The Hague who led the commission.
The report criticised the church for protecting paedophile priests as it tried to put the reputation of the church above care and concern for the victims.
Most of the cases involved mild to moderate abuse, such as touching, but it said that it estimated there were “several thousand” instances of rape.
“Everyone can be shocked that this history has come in this magnitude. Everyone can be taken aback that the Church has lied about this and covered it up,” Guido Klabbers from the KLOKK lobby group of child abuse victims told public broadcaster NOS.
The church is due to respond in a separate press conference on Friday.