The Roman Catholic church actively encouraged the castration of homosexual boys and men in the 1950s and 1960s, according to scholars who testified to the Dutch parliament. Medical historian Mart van Lieburg told parliament that a Dutch bishop ordered surgeons to perform castrations.
Professor Van Lieburg was speaking at a hearing called to clarify reports of castrations in Roman Catholic psychiatric care. He declined to name the bishop or the surgeons who had made the allegations. Another historian, Marnix Koolhaas, told parliament that several pastors sent boys to a doctor with orders to have them castrated.
Further research neeeded
Christian Democrat parliamentarian Madeleine van Toorenburg is now calling for new scholarly research into castrations. She told Dutch broadcaster NOS she wants to know whether they were performed on minors, or on anyone without consent. She stopped short of demanding a parliamentary inquiry.
The Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad reported last month that Henk Heithuis, a minor, had been forcibly castrated as a punishment for blowing the whistle on sexual abuse by a Catholic brother in 1956. The incident was reported in 2010 to the Deetman Commission which was investigating sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic church. The church-installed commission did not investigate the case and made no mention of it in its final report last December.
According to scholar Annemieke Klijn, who has studied the history of Dutch Catholic institutions for care of the mentally handicapped, castrations were ordered for several reasons in the 1950s. Sterilisation for eugenic purposes, although contrary to Roman Catholic doctrine, was supported by a leading Dutch Catholic medical ethicist at the time, she said. Klijn told parliament that castrations were sometimes carried out as a means of punishment.
Theo van der Meer, specialist in the history of homosexuality, added that castration was also a money-saving measure. Dutch psychiatric prisons were overcrowded and castration made it possible to release some sex offenders who had been committed into care by the courts.
Stroke of luck
In another development at the hearing, the Dutch public prosecution service revealed the discovery of 54 dossiers documenting the prosecution of Catholic priests for sex offences in the 1950s and '60s. Twenty-two of those cases led to a conviction, it said.
The discovery of the dossiers last Monday, called a 'stroke of luck' by the prosecution service, casts doubt on earlier claims by the government that all possible avenues of inquiry had been exhausted. Last year, the prosecution service conducted an internal investigation to determine whether cases against priests were dropped under pressure from the church. The focus was on cases after 1980 because, the prosecution service claimed, older records would mostly have been destroyed.
In reaction to the latest findings, several members of parliament are demanding a more thorough review of prosecution archives.