For the first time, a Dutch religious order has admitted its guilt in the Catholic sex abuse scandal. In a letter to the victims, which has been seen by Radio Netherlands Worldwide and NRC Handelsblad, the Salesians of Don Bosco express their “deep regret”. They also say they are working on a “generous” compensation package.
“In any case it is clear that Salesians are also guilty of committing sexual and emotional abuse and we condemn this unequivocally,” the letter says. The Dutch branch of the order also acknowledges its failure to prevent or respond to abuse. The trust of the children and their parents has been seriously harmed, say the Salesians.
“As an order we have not always handled reports properly and this has further damaged the trust placed in us.” The letter acknowledges that at various boarding schools and other institutions there was insufficient oversight. Intervention was inadequate and came too late.
It is now nearly a year since the Catholic abuse scandal in the Netherland first came to light, with the exposure of years of sexual abuse at the Don Rua boarding school in the eastern town of 's-Heerenberg. Forty-three victims came forward with allegations against the Salesians to Radio Netherlands Worldwide and NRC Handelsblad alone. The order’s first shocked reactions were followed by a lengthy silence, which has now finally been broken.
The letter describes practices that appeared to be aimed at stifling reports of abuse. “In a number of cases, parents and children were played off against each other, giving the children the feeling they had been abandoned. This is deeply regrettable.” Children who attempted to resist the abuse also faced threats.
The Salesians say the extent and seriousness of the abuse took them unawares. Where it was known about, action against the perpetrator was “not always fitting and adequate”. The order admits that appropriate measures could have prevented abuse from recurring.
The order says it is willing to confront its members who have been named by victims. But it will impose no further sanctions pending any legal action. “The Brothers who are suspected also have the right to a fair and thorough trial, and to defend themselves.”
The Salesians say they are now working on a compensation deal. “A collective settlement is in preparation,” the letter says.