World News

Dutch Catholics set up commission to look at abuse

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Dutch Roman Catholic Church is asking an independent commission to look into reports of alleged sexual abuses by priests, it said on Tuesday, in response to an increasing number of victims coming forward.

More than 200 Catholics in the Netherlands have come forward in the past week with reports of abuse, often from decades ago, after a report by Radio Netherlands Worldwide and newspaper NRC Handelsbad that three priests from the Salesian order abused pupils decades ago at a boarding school.

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.

Offering their “deepest sympathy and apologies,” Dutch bishops said an external, independent examination had been ordered that will be led by Wim Deetman, a former minister of education and mayor of The Hague.

“Any form of sexual abuse should be strongly condemned because it runs contrary to the Gospel and human dignity,” the bishops, led by the Salesian Bishop Adrianus van Luyn of Rotterdam, said in a statement after a conference in the central Dutch city of Zeist.

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

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

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.

Reporting by Reed Stevenson; Editing by Charles Dick