OXFORD, England — The Dutch church has pledged to fully cooperate with investigations into reported claims that Catholic institutions castrated boys and young men in their care to rid them of homosexuality.
Bert Elbertse, spokesman for the Dutch Catholic bishops' conference, said the bishops found the reports "shocking and appalling" and that they "condemn and regret such practices in the strongest possible terms."
"Our church has been badly damaged by accusations of sexual abuse. The fact that people were unsurprised by these latest claims suggests our image couldn't get any worse," he said.
Elbertse's comments followed a March 17 report by the NRC Handelsblad daily that as many as 11 boys were castrated at church-run schools and psychiatric institutions in the 1950s after being suspected of homosexuality.
"We knew there were castrations in the 1950s and 1960s, but we didn't know the church had any connection," Elbertse told Catholic News Service March 22.
"Although the initial public reactions to this newspaper report were very negative, many people are now asking whether the use of castration had more to do with health care at the time than with the church," he said.
Since 2010, the Catholic Church in the Netherlands has been shaken by allegations of abuse by clergy, most dating from the 1960s and 1970s. In December, a church-appointed commission confirmed that tens of thousands of children had been abused and identified 800 perpetrators of sexual crimes in the church between 1945 and 2010.
Security and Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten described the castration claims March 20 as "very serious and shocking," and said he would investigate the role of the Netherlands government at the time.
Dutch elected officials have demanded a new investigation into the claims by the Rotterdam-based newspaper, which said castration also was used on boys as a punishment for reporting abuse by Catholic staffers at the institutions.
The Dutch legislature scheduled a hearing with Wim Deetman, who chaired the commission investigating church abuse, to learn why the castration allegations were not included in his 2011 report.
In a statement March 17, the commission said it had not published findings on the claims because it had "too few leads for further investigation."
Guid Klabbers, chairman of a Dutch association of clerical abuse victims, questioned the commission's response and suggested it had failed to uncover all abuses.
"We've had many grave rape cases, but this is even worse. It's a case of extreme abuse of power and perverse pleasure in wielding power," Klabbers told Radio Netherlands Worldwide March 17.
"It suggests there remain facts that have yet to be revealed. Any lingering doubt must be removed," he said.
Elbertse told CNS that Dutch church leaders would await Deetman's response to the legislature and would cooperate with any investigation.
Legislative investigations into clerical abuse have been held in Ireland and Belgium, but have been blocked thus far in the Netherlands by a center-right coalition, which includes Christian Democrats and the far-right Freedom Party.
In a March 18 commentary, the Dutch Catholic weekly Katholiek Nieuwsblad said records suggested about 400 men were castrated in the Netherlands between 1938 and 1968. The newspaper said castration and electric shock treatment also were used "not uncommonly" on gay men at state-owned institutions in Britain and Scandinavia.
"There was no specific link with Catholicism. Indeed, Catholics and Protestants were against the use of castration as a blow to the integrity of the body," the commentary said.