Henk Heithuis was castrated in 1956 after reporting sexual abuse abuse
Henk Heithuis was castrated in 1956 after reporting sexual abuse at Catholic-run boarding home Flickr/Creative Common

A report by an independent commission has determined that more than 20,000 minors have been subject to sexual abuse by Dutch Catholic churches and related institutions since 1945.

The commission, which commenced its investigation in August 2010 after allegations of abuse were publicized at a Catholic school in eastern Holland, blamed senior Catholic officials for failing to put a stop to the widespread abuse.

Wim Deetman, a former government minister, headed the commission, which was formed by the Conference of Bishops and the Dutch Religious Conference.

“The problem of sexual abuse was known in the orders and dioceses of the Dutch Catholic Church, but the appropriate actions were not undertaken,” the Commission’s report stated.

The study examined 1800 complaints of abuse and unearthed about 800 perpetrators (100 of whom are still alive). The commission also surveyed almost 35,000 people to gauge the scale of abuse prevalent in Catholic institutions in the country.

The magnitude of abuse ranged from mild forms touching all the way up to and including rape.

The Commission also condemned the church hierarchy for covering up such abuse to protect its prestige, citing inadequate supervision and inadequate action.”

This episode fills us with shame and sorrow, said a bishops' statement.

Deetman told reporters: The (religious) orders were dealing with cases. The idea that people did not know it and administrators did not know it cannot be maintained.”

A victim of abuse named Bert Smeets told Associated Press: “What was happening was sexual abuse, violence, spiritual terror, and that should have been investigated. It remains vague. All sorts of things happened but nobody knows exactly what or by whom. This way, they avoid responsibility.

However, the report also determined that one-fifth of Dutch minors have likely been sexually abused at a school or institution, whether Catholic or not.

Sexual abuse of minors is widespread in Dutch society, the commission said.

Everyone can be shocked that this history has come in this magnitude. Everyone can be taken aback that the Church has lied about this and covered it up, Guido Klabbers of Klokk, a lobby group of child abuse victims, told public broadcaster NOS.

In November, the Catholic Church in Holland established a sliding scale of compensation for victims of abuse, depending on the severity of such actions – ranging from 5,000 to 100,000 euros ($6,500-130,000).

About 30 percent of Holland’s population is Catholic, according to reports.