|Harreveld Catholic boys home, Netherlands, were at least ten boys were abused by monks then vindictively castrated.|
Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35
So suitable boys, usually those from poor families who had entrusted their children to the care of the church as de facto slaves, and whose sole purpose in life was to sing in the choir, were unceremoniously castrated (in the days before anaesthetics or any understanding of aseptic techniques) rather like a race-horse owner will geld a racehorse to make it perform better. The last such 'castrato' retired in 1956, the practice having been banned in 1902.
You might be tempted to think that the practice was banned because the Catholic Church had adopted some of the enlightened humanism which was becoming more influential in European culture at the end of the 19th-century what with all the scientific progress we were making, but the truth is probably more to do with the increasing rejection of Church dogma and less inclination to be deferential and allow the Church to get away with its traditional abuses.
In fact, the Catholic Church has been fighting a desperate rearguard action to resists the European Enlightenment and scientific progress at every turn and cling on to its medieval dogmas, social stratification, autocratic principles and fundamental racism and has only ever bowed to the pressure of public opinion when it began to threaten its income and drive people away in disgust, just as it's doing now in respect of gay and transgender rights, women's rights and, eventually, the right to effective family planning.
It stopped castrating boys not because it suddenly realised it had been wrong all along and it was an unacceptable abuse of the children's fundamental rights, or because treating the children of poor people as animals rather than human beings was wrong, but because it thought it might cost them members and money.
How do we know this?
We know it because the practice was continued in at least one branch of the Catholic Church - the Dutch Catholic Church. Here it was used late into the 1950s in at least one Catholic boarding school as a punishment for reporting sexual abuse by the monks and as a deterrent to others against doing the same. To compound this abuse of human rights, the Catholic Church then appears to have been complicit in an attempt to cover this up.
In 2012, the investigative journalist, Joep Dohmen, uncovered the case of Henk Heithuis who was castrated in St. Joseph Hospital in Veghel, aged 20 (then legally still a minor under Dutch law). In 1956 he had reported two monks to the police for sexually abusing him at the Roman Catholic Harreveld boarding school. The monks were prosecuted and convicted but Henk was taken by the police to a Catholic-run psychiatric hospital where he was declared to be homosexual. The main abuser had been the brother superior, "Gregorius". Although no written consent has ever been produced, Heithuis was apparently castrated 'at his own request'. He died in a car accident in 1958.
Henk's case was reported to the the Deetman Commission, which had been set up by the Catholic Church (sic) to investigate cases of abuse by Catholic clerics, by a family friend, the sculptor, Cornelius Rogge, who testified to having seen for himself the evidence of the castration, but the evidence was ignored and the case was omitted from the final report. Although the Deetman Commission received some 1,800 reports detailing 'tens of thousands' of sexual abuse by Catholic clerics in Holland since 1945, it failed to include anything about the Heithuis case or follow up the reports of the other cases of punitive castration carried out on Harreveld boys.
|Victor Marijnen, leading Catholic politician who was complicit in the abuses and tried to secure a royal pardon for the abusers.|
Dohmen has since uncovered evidence that Marijnen personally intervened to try to secure a royal pardon for Gregorius and other convicted abusers from Harreveld by writing directly to the Queen on their behalf. This intervention, and the existence of this letter, were also omitted from the Deetman Report.
So how does this have any impact on the Deetman Commission that they should appear to have turned a blind eye to some of the worst abuses?
Victor Marijnen's KVP later merged with several Protestant parties to become the Christian Democrats (CDA), the party to which the chairman of the Deetman Commission, Wim Deetman, belongs. It would have been enormously embarrassing to show a direct political connection between the Deetman Commission chairman and the leading Catholic politician who not only knew of the abuse and did nothing about it but actively tried to defend the abusers and secure a royal pardon for them.
But, as Robert Chesal for the Guardian suggested, there may be an even deeper, more sinister reason:
But this may be too narrow a view. The bigger picture is this: Marijnen was just one member of a wider elite of Catholic notables who wielded vast power in the 1950s. They were captains of industry, chairmen of commissions, judges, high-ranking civil servants and politicians. They could reign supreme in Catholic circles thanks to the rigidity of Dutch society back then.
All of public and private life was organised around the church you belonged to. If you were Catholic, you married, shopped and voted Catholic. You knew, unquestioningly, what school you would attend and what clubs you could join. Dirty laundry was never aired in public, certainly not outside your religious community. And in this setting, a small group of men, the old boys' network that Marijnen belonged to, could hush up the abuse at Harreveld and other Roman Catholic institutions. In short, the Harreveld castration story reveals collusion between institutions, bishops, politicians, the police and the justice system that enabled sexual abuse in the church to continue unpunished for decades on end.
It's now clear that the critics were right when they complained that a church-installed commission of inquiry could not, or would not, get to the bottom of the abuse scandal. There must now be an impartial inquiry whose integrity is beyond doubt. Only parliament can fulfil this role. And perhaps the first witness called to testify under oath should be Wim Deetman himself.
But should we really be surprised by the moral standards of people brought up to regard the Bible as the ultimate source of morals when it has nothing whatever to say about child abuse or a lower age at which a child can be regarded as able to take part in consensual sexual activity? This same Bible endorses slavery and racism, summary execution without trial and celebrates genocide and land theft. It sees nothing wrong with selling daughters as sex slaves, stoning disobedient children to death, or rape as a means of securing a wife, who must then remain the obedient and compliant property of her rapist. The Bible is far more concerned with securing obedience to the priesthood and to the rulers and with maintaining rigid hierarchies in society, with the priests sitting alongside the autocratic despots at the top table to be feted by the lower orders.
Treating vulnerable children as merely the recreational playthings of predatory priests who maintain a front of sanctimonious piety as an excuse to meddle in all aspects of our lives, is only to be expected of people who go into the priesthood for the power and privileges it gives them, and for a superstition which regards life as merely a rehearsal and wrong done to others as something that a few muttered spells and magic hand movements can set aside, without needing to bother with making amends to those wronged. And what's wrong with a little victim blaming when your superstition tells you that they are all unworthy sinners who are probably going to Hell anyway?
With this repugnant creed to give them an air of smug moral superiority, these vile people feel entitled to condemn us humanists as immoral as we drag them kicking and screaming and hurling curses at us, out of their early Medieval barbarity into the 21st-century and require them to behave like decent, civilised people.