While he was Archbishop of Utrecht, Cardinal Ad Simonis shielded a paedophile priest. The cardinal knew about the man's paedophile past when he transferred him to a parish in Amersfoort, where the priest again sexually abused children.
The revelations follow research by Radio Netherlands Worldwide, the NRC Handelsblad newspaper and Dutch television programme Nieuwsuur.
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59-year-old "Father Ron" was barred from practicing as a priest because of sex abuse last year by the current archbishop Wim Eijk. He is no longer allowed to carry out pastoral work. Archbishop Eijk's predecessor, Ad Simonis, who was archbishop between 1983 and 2007, had not imposed any sanctions.
Responding to questions about the case, Cardinal Simonis says that "a well-known behavioural psychologist had stated it was safe to appoint the priest to a new post […] In the end, partly on the strength of the psychologist's statement, assent was given" for the priest's transfer.
Cardinal Simonis had known Ron since the 1970s and had a "warm relationship" with him, according to the priest himself. According to the cardinal the relationship was "friendly, but not a friendship".
In the early 1990s, Ad Simonis was informed by the then Bishop of Rotterdam, Philippe Bär, about sex offences committed by Father Ron in his parish of Zoetermeer. As early as 1988, Hanneke Brunt (56) had gone to the police about the abuse of her son by Ron, then working as a chaplain. Ron confessed.
The Public Prosecutor's Office dropped the abuse case in 1988 in view of "the suspect's health". The chaplain was released on condition he did not commit another offence of the same nature for two years.
After the case was dropped, Bishop Bär left Ron in his post in Zoetermeer. Despite the warning from the Public Prosecutor's Office, the abuse continued.
One of his victims, E. Meester (now 41), says: "We went for little excursions […] He also took me to a sauna, where he sexually assaulted me."
Protecting the faithful
In May 1989 Father Ron interfered with three 14-year-old boys. This time the case went to court. In January 1990 he was given a three month suspended sentence, a light sentence because he was already undergoing therapy.
After Ron's treatment, Bishop Bär wanted the priest out of his diocese. In January 1991 an employee wrote to the neighbouring bishopric of Utrecht, saying that the chaplain was interested in a new position. The letter alludes to Ron's warm ties with the archbishop: "Cardinal Simonis knows Ron quite well." In response to this request for help, Archbishop Simonis promoted the chaplain to priest of a parish in Amersfoort. The parishioners were not informed about Ron's past.
E. Meester: "Looking back, I have to conclude that Simonis knowingly provided protection to a paedophile priest, rather than protecting the faithful of the parish as he should have."
'We don't do that'
In 1995 Hanneke Brunt discovered that the priest was working again in Amersfoort. She went to Simonis in the hope of preventing a repeat of the sex abuse.
"I went to the archbishop's palace on the Maliebaan in Utrecht on two occasions, together with my mother" she says. "The first time Simonis dismissed it as a joke. It simply couldn't be true. 'This doesn't happen in the Roman Catholic Church. We don't do that.' She was told. 'How did you hear this story' he asked and said that he knew the priest in question."
On the second visit, Simonis referred her to the Roman Catholic complaints agency Hulp en Recht (Help and Justice), according to Brunt. On 7 April 1997 Help and Justice concluded that the Church had done nothing to help her son. However, the agency also found that the Church had acted adequately to prevent a repeat of the sexual abuses by Father Ron.
Cardinal Simonis denies that he ever spoke to Hanneke Brunt.
Father Ron was in trouble with the police again in 2007. Two boys from Amersfoort reported sexual abuse they claimed had occurred in the 1990s. Ron was interviewed and admitted to one count of abuse.
He narrowly avoided a new court case when the Public Prosecutor's Office in Utrecht received his police file just too late. One instance turned out to have become subject to the statute of limitations one month earlier. There was not enough evidence in the second instance and the case was abandoned in September 2009.
The cardinal caused a furore last year when he commented on the abuse using the German phrase "Wir haben es nicht gewusst" (We did not know) - the words famously used by Nazi defendants at the Nuremberg trials. He added that he dealt with all the cases brought to his attention "extremely carefully".
Asked whether he treated the case of Father Ron carefully, Simonis replied: "Given what I knew then, yes. Following careful internal consultation, action was taken on the basis of the fact available at the time […] Should it turn out now that the case was not handled with due care as a result of incomplete information, then that is extremely unfortunate and should be corrected."