Dutch parliament considers abuse inquiry

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The Dutch parliament may start an official inquiry into sexual and violent abuse committed by members of the Roman Catholic Church.

Such an inquiry is the most far-reaching medium parliament has at its disposal. Only ten have been held since World War II.

Dutch opposition MPs are considering convening an inquiry because they feel the government is not doing enough. Granted, abuse in the church is being looked into by a number of groups. A commission set up by the church itself recently reported its findings, and another commission set up by the Health Ministry is still conducting investigations into abuse conducted at institutions overseen by the government. Yet another group is advising the church about paying compensation to victims.

Passive government
In his own defence, Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten says he is keeping track of the various investigations, and has set up a task force to look into how to prevent child abuse and sexual abuse. As for what took place over the years in the Catholic Church, Mr Opstelten says he is satisfied with the work done by the commission appointed by the church itself: "I think that this belongs with the church."

But it is precisely this attitude which has convinced many in parliament of the need for their own inquiry.

[media:image]Khadija Arib, an MP for the Labour Party, says the government is too willing to leave it up to the church to investigate what took place, and how to punish the perpetrators. She grew visibly frustrated while listening to the Justice Minister. Ms Arib said, "You can’t admit that the government failed. You don’t even dare say what you think about what happened. I think it’s a scandal… the more I listen to you, the more I’m convinced we need a parliamentary inquiry."

Ms Arib contrasted the passive role of the Dutch government with the much more active role of the Irish government, which has undertaken a broad investigation into abuse in the church.

Turn a blind eye
The Dutch government faces a number of questions in the abuse scandals. The Samson Commission is looking into abuse at government-run institutions. Chairperson Rieke Samson has recently called for a central registration point for abuse, a move applauded across the board. But MPs feel the commission’s mandate is too narrow.

At another level, the government also faces some tricky issues. To what extent did the government know about sexual abuse in the church when it was happening? How often did government officials turn a blind eye? To what extent did the Justice Ministry decide to allow the church to handle cases of abuse under church law, rather than pressing charges under civil law?

At least one case has emerged where it appears an official at the Justice Ministry took no action after learning about a case of abuse in the church. MPs want to know if this happened more often.

Women, girls and violence
Parliament would also like to know the extent of abuse of women and girls within the church, abuse which was not included in the investigative commission appointed by the church itself. Abuse that was violent but not sexual in nature has also yet to be looked into.

Until now, the government has taken a narrow view of its responsibility. The Justice Minister says most of the crimes committed have passed their statute of limitations. He is unwilling to look into the possibility of using international human rights law, as some victims’ representatives have suggested, to get around the statute of limitations.

Government responsability
At the same time, an organisation set up to help victims report abuse has reported 75 cases in which the church has frustrated their investigations. Victims say this shows the church cannot be left to its own devices in rooting out abuse.

Green Left MP Tofik Dibi got to the heart of the matter: "This is the fundamental problem in this debate: that we are now looking at the church as the main party responsible, but isn’t the government also partly responsible for what happened to the victims?"

Parliament will continue to debate abuse in the church on Thursday. Minister Opstelten will be hard pressed to convince MPs not to convene a parliamentary inquiry into abuse in the Catholic church.