Investigation into actions by Public Prosecution Service in dealing with Catholic sexual abuse cases

The Public Prosecution Service has, in general, not been in default when dealing with abuse cases within the Roman Catholic Church. There were no indications that any agreements were made in the past between the Roman Catholic Church and the Public Prosecution Service about dealing with cases against clergymen. It has, however, become apparent that, in practice, consultations were held between the Public Prosecution Service and church leaders. This could have contributed to the fact that abuse cases against clergymen were often settled more mildly. This is evidenced by the final report of the Committee for Archival Research into actions by the Public Prosecution Service in dealing with Catholic sexual abuse cases, which report was sent today by Minister Opstelten of Security and Justice to the House of Representatives.

The investigation, which has been conducted by M.W. van Boven, former Chief State Archivist, and F.H. Koster, former Vice-President and Chairman of the Criminal Division of the Supreme Court of the Netherlands, provides information about the way in which the Public Prosecution Service dealt with abuse cases within the Roman Catholic Church in the 1950s and 1960s in particular. The committee of inquiry was established in May 2012 by Minister Opstelten upon request by the House of Representatives.

During its investigation, the committee focused on the period between 1945 and 1980. In doing so, the committee paid particular attention to the districts where the Roman Catholic Church had the strongest representation. The investigation included a total of 110 cases against clergymen. The committee did not find any indications of the existence of a policy promoting a mild settlement or non-prosecution of sex cases against clergymen. The many cases found show that the Public Prosecution Service indeed took action in sex cases against clergymen. At the same time, the investigation shows that clergymen under suspicion were, more often than average non-clergymen under suspicion, more often subject to a more favourable settlement of abuse cases. This becomes visible when comparing the percentages of conditional dismissals and suspended sentences of both groups. Here, it is striking that these differences in prosecution found are no longer present when a comparison is made with suspects from a comparable social class. The conclusion of the investigators is that the differences found are not so much attributable to the fact that the suspects were clergymen, but that these differences have to do with the position of suspects on the social ladder.

According to the investigators, the actions by the Roman Catholic Church partly explain the more favourable treatment to which the higher clergy in particular was subject more often. The Roman Catholic Church provided facilities for treatment and prevention of recidivism (through transfers, for example) and consulted the Public Prosecution Service about this. The investigators also thoroughly analysed a few high-profile cases. In a single case, a decision made by the Public Prosecution Service in the past is incomprehensible according to the investigators.

In the accompanying letter to the House of Representatives, Minister Opstelten writes that the investigation is an important addition to all investigations conducted so far concerning abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. According to the Minister, a clear conclusion is that, although suggested, no indications were found of a policy or general agreements on a mild settlement or non-prosecution of sex cases against clergymen. The many cases found show that the Public Prosecution Service took action in sex cases against clergymen. At the same time, the case investigation shows that clergymen under suspicion, as well as suspects from a comparable social class, were, more often than average suspects, subject to a more favourable settlement of abuse cases. The report provides clear information about the patterns that, especially in the 1950s and 1960s, could contribute to this actual legal inequality. As a result, victims may have felt ignored. According to Minister Opstelten, the report emphasises the importance of a uniform and consistent prosecution policy and a very careful handling of abuse cases, bearing in mind the position of victims.