THE HAGUE (Reuters) - The head of a Dutch commission asked by the Catholic Church to look into allegations of sexual abuse said on Friday a year-long investigation was needed and appealed for offenders to come forward.
Wim Deetman, tasked to probe reports of sexual abuse by priests, said an independent inquiry should assess the scale and nature of the alleged abuse over the last 65 years, examine who was accountable and establish measures to prevent it recurring.
“From a moral, religious point of view, in the framework of the Roman Catholic Church, it is wise to come to the forefront and say what you have done,” Deetman said, calling on offenders to come forward.
“It will be helpful for the commission to establish how broad it has been, not to hear just from the victims but also from the offenders,” he added.
During the commission’s investigation it can refer specific cases to the public prosecutor.
The Dutch Roman Catholic Church in March asked Deetman to lead the preliminary inquiry in response to an increasing number of victims coming forward.
“I received a lot of emails, not only I, also journalists, also within the Roman Catholic Church, so there is enough evidence with respect to this problem, no doubt,” said Deetman.
The number of calls to a Dutch hotline for victims of abuse has risen to 1,500 since early March, and 52 formal complaints have been made against the church.
Last month the Rotterdam diocese reported a priest to the police for alleged sexual abuse and suspended him from duty. He was the fourth cleric to be suspended in recent weeks.
Hundreds of cases of sexual and physical abuse of youths by priests have come to light in Europe and the United States in recent months, as disclosures encourage long-silent victims to finally go public with their complaints.
Most reports of abuse in the Netherlands date back to the 1950s and 60s, with fewer from later years as Catholic boarding schools started to close in the 1970s. The last Catholic boarding school in the Netherlands closed in 1981.
The Dutch Catholic Bishop’s Conference, led by the Salesian Bishop Adrianus van Luyn of Rotterdam, is due to hold a conference next Tuesday in reaction to Deetman’s initial advice, and has said it will not comment until that time.
Just over a quarter of the Dutch population of 16 million are registered as Catholic, concentrated mainly in the southern part of the country.
Reporting by Catherine Hornby; Editing by Matthew Jones