Dutch inquiry gets 2,000 Catholic Church abuse claims

Wim Deetman, Dutch politician and head of an inquiry into abuses in the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands, pictured in March 2010
Image caption Wim Deetman said complaints of abuses had increased 100-fold in the last year

Almost 2,000 people in the Netherlands have raised complaints in the last year of abuses in the Roman Catholic Church, according to a special commission.

Most of the alleged abuses took place decades ago within the Catholic Church school system.

The commission was set up by the Church in March 2010, after a growing number of cases surfaced in the Netherlands.

An interim report said the church had not done enough to help victims or investigate abuse allegations.

Between 1995 and 2009 an average of 20 people each year registered complaints of sexual or physical abuse with the Catholic organisation Help and Law, according to the head of the inquiry, Wim Deetman.

But in the last year there were 1,975 complaints - about 600 via Help and Law and over 1300 directly to his commission - in a country with a Catholic population of around 4m.

That is 100 times more than the previous average.

"I am very respectful of the people who came forward because declaring yourself a victim is a big step," said Mr Deetman, a Protestant former education minister.

Regaining trust

The report is critical of Help and Law, which was set up by the Church to handle abuse cases, saying it was "not a help organisation".

Mr Deetman suggests a completely independent organisation be set up to handle complaints, organise professional help, deal with compensation and initiate disciplinary measures against priests.

With some complaints going back to 1945, the report also stressed that the lapse of time should not affect authorities' response.

"We want to regain trust and do justice to the victims. The question whether a case has expired [for purposes of legal action] or not should not be a guiding principle," he said.

The final report is due out next year.

The Dutch Church and Conference of Religious Orders thanked Mr Deetman for his work and promised to co-operate fully with his continuing inquiries.

"There can and should be no room for sexual abuse within the Church," they said in a statement. "Abuse is contrary to the Gospel and the dignity of the human being and the inviolability of the child."

But the statement conceded that "apologies are not enough".

Prosecuting perpetrators

Image caption The Roman Catholic church faces a growing number of abuse complaints

Some abuse victims are calling for a parliamentary inquiry into Catholic abuse, saying the Deetman inquiry is not independent because it was set up by the Church.

Mr Deetman insists his inquiry is independent and says his commission has already informed the public prosecutor about a handful of cases.

Some cases have already gone to court - for example, in the south-west town of Middelburg where a victim, now 34, is seeking financial compensation from a former priest, now 88.

One central accusation in the Netherlands, as in other countries, is that known abusers were simply transferred to new parishes.

Last month, the Salesian order of Dutch Catholic priests admitted to paying hush money to a victim of sexual abuse.

There has been no response yet from the Vatican to Mr Deetman's interim report.

Pope Benedict XVI has apologised several times for abuses by Roman Catholic priests as the scandal has grown over recent years, with cases surfacing across Europe, Australia, Canada and the United States.

The Vatican says tougher measures have been put in place to screen out seminarians who could become abusers.

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