The former leader of Dutch Roman Catholics is to testify for the first time about his knowledge of child abuse in the church. Earlier controversial comments he made about the abuse caused an outcry in the Netherlands.
More: Cardinal Simonis
Cardinal Simonis is not expected to say anything controversial in Middelburg.
He has become more guarded since he said, “Wir haben es nicht gewusst” (“We didn’t know”), on Dutch television after being questioned about sex abuse in the church.
The quote was a reference to German denials of knowledge of the Nazi concentration camps in the Second World War.
The cardinal’s reputation has been further damaged by reports from Radio Netherlands Worldwide and the NRC Handelsblad newspaper.
The cardinal has been revealed to have promoted a friar, who had been found guilty of sexual abuse, to an acolyte (senior altar server) in 2007. The appointment came two years after the cardinal had introduced compulsory checks on candidates’ history before any clerical appointments.
It has also surfaced that, in 1983, as the new Archbishop of Utrecht, he had allowed a parish priest to remain in his post despite evidence that the priest was a paedophile and had committed abuse.
Cardinal Ad Simonis will appear in court in Middelburg on Tuesday. It will be the first time such a senior Roman Catholic cleric is to give evidence on child abuse before a Dutch court.
The Middelburg case has been brought by a 34-year-old man who was abused by the now very elderly priest, Jan N. The abuse took place in the early 1990s in Terneuzen in the diocese of Breda. The victim hopes the evidence of Cardinal Simonis and other church officials will show that the diocese can be held liable for not taking measures to prevent sexual abuse.
Last week, Bishop Hans van den Hende of Breda and Herman Spronck, head of the Salesian teaching order in the Netherlands, gave their testimony in the case. Father Spronck admitted that the Salesians (Father Jan’s first employers) did not inform the Breda diocese of the priest’s paedophile offences.
While he was in a position of authority at the Don Bosco Youth Centre in Rijswijk, Fr Jan had sexually abused multiple boys. He was arrested in 1979 and confessed to the offences but after a week in prison was allowed sick leave. His case was dismissed in 1980 by the Public Prosecutor’s office in The Hague. The reason for that decision is unclear and the dossier has since been destroyed.
Only five years later, Fr Jan started work as a priest in a parish in Terneuzen, part of the Breda diocese, where his history was not known. In 1990, the priest was found guilty of the sexual abuse of a number of boys. He was given four months’ suspended sentence and ordered to do 160 hours of community service.
Fr Spronck’s evidence seems to absolve the Breda diocese of blame. He admitted that a warning would probably have prevented Fr Jan from committing more sexual abuse. The Salesians’ inaction “may have been rather regrettable,” he told the NOS Dutch public service broadcaster.
What did the cardinal know?
Now, it’s Cardinal Simonis’ turn to testify about what he knew of the earlier case in Rijswijk. At the time, he was bishop of Rotterdam, and Rijswijk is in the Rotterdam diocese. It is hoped his statements will show whether there is enough evidence to bring a civil case for damages against the diocese of Breda.