The former head of the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands, Cardinal Ad Simonis, says the church leaders were not aware of child sex abuse in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
Speaking on the TV programme Pauw & Witteman on Tuesday evening, he said - in German - "wir haben es nicht gewusst" and added "I know that is a very dangerous remark and heavily loaded, but it's true."
The remark in question, meaning "we didn't know about it" and referring to the Holocaust, was repeatedly used by Nazi defendants at the Nuremberg trials after World War II.
Cardinal Simonis said many things were hidden from the church leaders because a bishop does not have direct authority over the various orders of clergy within the church. Cases of abuse would have been dealt with at a different level. In his 38 years as a bishop, he added, he had been aware of no more than ten cases of abuse.
The cardinal said he was "extremely shocked" and "ashamed" by the recent flood of complaints about sexual abuse of children in Catholic institutions. The church's own abuse helpline has received 1100 reactions so far. It's not known how many of these are formal complaints.
Cardinal Simonis denied there was any direct connection between child abuse and the celibacy of priests. He said it could have been the result of "insufficient preparation for the celibacy and a poor selection of candidates." He regarded abuse of positions of power as "certainly another factor".
Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin has announced he is considering extending the time period after which the statute of limitations applies to cases of child abuse. The cases which have recently come to light are all too old to go to court.
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