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Dutch Catholics come forward with reports of abuse

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dozens of Catholics in the Netherlands have come forward in the past few days to report sexual abuses by priests, encouraged by media coverage of similar cases that have come to light in Ireland and Germany.

About 70 reports have been filed since Friday, when a newspaper reported that three priests from the Salesian order abused pupils decades ago at a boarding school, said Pieter Kohnen of the Dutch Catholic Bishop’s Conference.

Most cases involve people who say they were raped or abused by Catholic priests 40 to 50 years ago. The Salesians, like the Jesuits in Germany who face similar abuse charges, specialize in educating Catholic youth.

“It is a big problem, and it is a problem for the victims that they needed so many years to tell their story,” Kohnen said. “Developments in Ireland and Germany are watched with much interest, and it is impossible to expect that we will not see developments here.”

The Catholic bishops’ conference, led by the Salesian Bishop Adrianus van Luyn of Rotterdam, will hold a regularly scheduled meeting on March 9 and discuss whether to launch a wider investigation.

The Salesian order has said it will launch an investigation into the reports of abuse in a boarding school it ran in the city of ‘s-Heerenberg on the Dutch-German border.

Just over a quarter of the Dutch population of 16 million are registered as Catholic, concentrated mainly in the southern part of the country.

While pedophilia scandals have rocked the church in Ireland and the United States in recent years, there had been little abuse previously known in the Netherlands and neighboring Germany.

Pope Benedict held crisis talks with Irish bishops about the scandal last month after a government report issued a damning indictment of child sex abuse by priests. Critics say the Vatican and the church have not gone far enough in handing over suspected abusers to civil justice.

Most reports of abuse in the Netherlands date back to the 50’s and 60’s, Kohnen said, with fewer from later years as Catholic boarding schools started to close in the 70’s.

Kohnen said the last Catholic boarding school in the Netherlands closed in 1981.

Reporting by Reed Stevenson; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton