Catholic Church abused 'thousands'
The Hague - An independent Dutch inquiry into child sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests said on Friday it found "tens of thousands" of victims since 1945, identifying 800 alleged perpetrators.
Tens of thousands of minors were exposed to "mild, severe or very severe sexual behaviour" by clergy or lay workers in the Dutch Catholic Church over a 65-year period between 1945 and 2010, the commission said in its final report.
"Based on 1 795 reports, the commission could find the names of 800 abusers who work or have worked for" Roman Catholic bishops in The Netherlands, the report said.
Most were priests, but the figure also includes lay workers. "Of these 800 people, 105 are still alive."
"It's an absolutely enormous figure," said former education minister Wim Deetman who chaired the six-person commission including a former judge, university professors and a psychologist that began its inquiry in 2010.
Deetman said it was up to prosecutors to decide if the surviving alleged abusers should face criminal charges.
Claims of alleged sexual abuse examined by the inquiry went from "light physical contact to penetration", he said.
Dutch bishops expressed their regrets and offered "sincere apologies" to the victims.
"This episode fills us with shame and sorrow," the bishops' conference said in a statement, adding that they were "shocked by the sexual abuse of minors and the practices detailed in this report".
Based on an examination of Church archives, the commission chair Deetman said that the problem of sexual abuse had been "on the agenda of Episcopal meetings" since the 1940s.
"The Dutch Catholic Church knew what was happening and tried to resolve the problem," but the appropriate actions were never taken, Deetman told a press conference in The Hague.
A taboo on discussing sexuality in society until the 1960s and the Catholic Church's "closed" administrative structure were in part responsible for religious authorities' passive response to the problem, the commission said.
"Then again, people simply could not believe that a religious person could do that," said Deetman.
The former minister said the inquiry came to no conclusion about a direct link between priestly celibacy and sexual abuse, but the commission's report said celibacy posed a risk and led to a "need for sexuality".
Deetman said the risk of sexual abuse was "twice as high" for minors attending boarding schools than for others, but he stressed that the problem also existed in non-Catholic boarding schools.
The Catholic Church has been rocked by revelations of widespread sexual abuse of minors in several countries in recent years, including the US, Germany, Ireland, Belgium and Austria.
In 2004, a criminal inquiry established there were 4 400 paedophile priests in the US between 1950 and 2002, putting the number of their child victims at 11 000.
Dutch bishops decided in 2010 to open an inquiry after revelations of widespread abuse in the Netherlands were first reported in the national press.
In February, a Catholic order in the Netherlands said it would pay compensation to more than two dozen victims of sexual abuse committed by its priests.
The Order of Salesians of Don Bosco reached a deal to make "generous" restitution to individuals who fell victim to sexual abuse by priests as pupils at its boarding schools between 1950 and 1971, a joint statement said.
Estimates of the number of victims of child sexual abuse by the Catholic Church was based on a survey of more than 34 000 Dutch people aged 40 and over, representative of Dutch society.
A committee set up to advise the Church on compensation reported last June that victims should receive up to €100 000, depending on the severity of the abuse.