Despite denials, Dutch Catholic Church knew of child abuse as early as 1954

A Dutch investigative TV programme has uncovered documents in church archives that show that the Catholic Church was aware of child abuse at orphanages and other institutions throughout theNetherlandsas early as 1954. Senior church officials have consistently denied that they knew of the abuses.

The TV programme Altijd Wat reported on Monday that the church’s council for child protection issued warnings about child abuse in church-run homes and boarding schools in 1959 and 1962. The warnings were sent to the authorities at 112 homes and residential schools. The letters urged institution managers to be aware of the dangers of employing people who are ‘unsuitable’ to give leadership to children. The 1959 circular, for example, says the child protection group was aware of a number of cases, ‘with sad and serious outcomes’.

RTL news has discovered a warning made by a senior cleric inTilburgin 1954 in which monks inTilburgwere told: “Be careful in how you relate to children and do not make your lives unhappy. Keep your hands to yourself.”

Lawyer Martin de Witte, who is representing a number of victims, said the letters showed the church could no longer say it was not aware of the abuse and claim that the cases are now too old. “They knew exactly what was going on but decided to do nothing about it,” De Witte told the newspaper Volkskrant.

It was revealed two years ago that three Catholic clerics from the Don Rua cloisters in ‘s-Heerenberg,Gelderland, had abused at least three children in the 1960s and 1970s. Since then, a government commission has received reports of almost 2,000 cases of abuse within religious institutions, a number of which will be taken to court.

Sister Maureen Paul Turlish, Advocate for Victims & Legislative Reform, commented: “The documents that are being made public show an unconscionable level of deceit and an almost unbelievable lack of ethical or moral standards. And the pope worries about ‘the obstacles to Christian faith and practice raised by a secularized culture’? Church leaders should look to themselves as the church continues to lose credibility and moral authority.”