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Thousands of children abused in Dutch churches over 65 years, inquiry says

By Joe Sterling, CNN
updated 9:56 AM EST, Fri December 16, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Church officials delegated an independent commission to probe the problem
  • The child sex abuse is called "a serious problem in absolute numbers"
  • More than 100 of the alleged abusers "are known to be living," the commission says

(CNN) -- Thousands and thousands of children suffered from sexual abuse in the Dutch Roman Catholic Church over more than six decades, and about 800 "possible perpetrators" have been identified, an independent Commission of Inquiry said Friday.

"Several tens of thousands of minors have experienced mild, serious and very serious forms of inappropriate sexual behavior. Victims have often suffered for decades from the effects of abuse and have received acknowledgment of the fact," the panel says in its report. "This has caused problems for them, their immediate family and their friends, who require attention and sometimes professional counseling."

The report, which covers a period from 1945 to 2010, says "the scale" of the abuse "is relatively small in percentage terms, but is a serious problem in absolute numbers." The victims were under the responsibility of the range of people working in the church -- priests, brothers, pastoral workers and lay persons, it says.

The report has widespread ramifications across the Netherlands because of the integral role that Roman Catholics play in that society, in religion, politics, media, education and trade unionism. At 30% of the population, Roman Catholics make up the largest religious group in the Netherlands.

The Commission of Inquiry says it received 1,795 reports of church-related sex abuse of minors and the "reports contained information about possible perpetrators. The 800 names of perpetrators can be traced to people "who work or worked in dioceses, orders and congregations."

"At least 105 of those 800 persons are known to be living. It is not known how many of these individuals are still in their jobs," the report says.

The church developed the inquiry after "a growing number of reports appeared" about sexual abuse in the church bureaucracy, the commission says.

"The Commission of Inquiry based its findings on empirical data from the reports of sexual abuse it received between March and December 2010, as well as historical records from ecclesiastical and other archives," it says.

Sexual abuse of minors wasn't unknown to church officials, the report says. It had "received a great deal of attention" from church hierarchy throughout its history. The commission discovered "quite a lot of information about inappropriate sexual behavior" up to the 1950s.

"Bishops and other church authorities were not ignorant of the problem of sexual abuse. Moreover, in the view of the Commission of Inquiry, in many cases they failed to take adequate action and paid too little attention to victims," the report says.

At the same time, it says the fact that "sexual abuse of minors occurs widely in Dutch society" is part of the context of the problem. And, as it searched archives, the commission found "cases of sexual abuse by perpetrators who had themselves been victims of similar abuse in their youth."

As for victims, the report says, they "gradually started receiving attention since the 1990s." It stressed the importance of "financial compensation" as "an essential element" of victim reparations. It says the church has a "moral duty" to take complaints seriously.

"In the last few years, reports of sexual abuse have regularly led to meetings between the victim and the perpetrator," the report says. "In most cases, the perpetrator or the responsible administrator has expressed regret. Apologies and compensation generally date from after 2000."

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