AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch Cardinal Adrianus Simonis, in rare court testimony by a senior Roman Catholic prelate, denied Tuesday any knowledge of alleged sexual abuse by a priest in his Rotterdam diocese in the 1970s.
Simonis, 79, was called to testify in a case lodged by a man, now 34, who said the same priest had abused him in another diocese in 1984. The priest was convicted in 1990 of three other cases of abuse there and dismissed from his ministry.
The Catholic Church has been rocked by a series of sexual abuse cover-up scandals in both Europe and the United States in recent years, and an independent Dutch commission is now investigating abuses dating back to 1945.
“Sexual abuse (only) came explicitly on the agenda of the bishops in the 1990s,” Simonis was quoted as saying by Dutch agency ANP, adding he knew nothing of the 1970s case in Rijswijk in the Rotterdam diocese when he was bishop there.
Summoning a cardinal in such cases is rare. In the United States, former Boston Cardinal Bernard Law testified before two grand juries and former Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahoney appeared in court twice in abuse cases over the past decade.
In Belgium, former Cardinal Godfried Danneels and Brussels Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard both testified late last year before a parliamentary commission into clerical sexual abuse of minors there.
In the Dutch case, the plaintiff is seeking information in support of a possible damages lawsuit against the priest, a now elderly Salesian priest identified only as Jan N.
Simonis, who retired as archbishop of Utrecht in 2007, was questioned about the Rijswijk case in the hearing aimed at determining if the Church could be liable for negligence in failing to take measures to prevent the abuse.
He said he had only heard at a later stage “very vague” stories about the case, the ANP agency reported.
Reporting by Aaron Gray-Block and Tom Heneghan