On behalf of the Roman Catholic Church, archbishop and cardinal Wim Eijk promised that the Catholic Church would not claim the period of limitation for sexual offences. However, this promise only turns out to hold for victims who file a claim with the Church itself. In civil law proceedings the Roman Catholic Church does indeed invoke prescription. ‘The Roman Catholic Church is misleading victims’, according to Fokko Oldenhuis, professor by special appointment of Religion and Law at the University of Groningen. ‘Eijk continues to use legalese and half-truths. It’s high time that transparency and honesty took their place.’
Victims of sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands can claim damages from the Church. The related regulations were drawn up after the Deetman Commission, that investigated the abuse, made the case for collective compensation. Victims of sexual abuse are eligible for damages which in exceptional cases can run up to EUR 100,000.
On behalf of the Roman Catholic Church, archbishop and cardinal Wim Eijk promised that that the Church would not claim the period of limitation for sexual offences. However, this promise turns out only to hold for the Church’s own claims procedure. In civil law proceedings, however, the Roman Catholic Church does turn out to indeed claim the period of limitation, as the provisional examination of a witness at Utrecht District Court proved last autumn. Fokko Oldenhuis, professor by special appointment of Religion and Law at the University of Groningen, finds this extremely inappropriate. ‘They give the impression of making a generous offer, while they are actually misleading the victims.’
The fact that civil-law proceedings can result in higher claims is certainly not the most important argument in favour of keeping this option open, according to Oldenhuis. ‘If someone climbs the courthouse stairs to file a case themselves, not only can they take on the Church as an institution, but also address individual church officials. Even though the Catholic Church has its own legal system, it is never outside the reach of Dutch law. Many victims will no doubt find more satisfaction in a verdict stating that the Church failed than in any amount of damages.’
Civil law usually has a 20-year period of limitation. If the Roman Catholic Church could successfully claim this, many clerics would manage to evade justice. Utrecht District Court criticized the Church’s claiming the period of limitation and has already pointed out that this period can be extended in exceptional cases. Oldenhuis: ‘There is a case to be made for claiming the period of limitation in, for example, such instances as neighbours embroiled in a boundary dispute. However, it was never meant for cases such as these, where children were abused by the clergy within the confines of the Church itself. It is outrageous that they attempt to claim it and ultimately this is damaging to the Church. All the good that the Church has ever done – think for instance of the missionary work in developing countries throughout the centuries – would unnecessarily go to waste.’
While victims are in need of acknowledgment and understanding, archbishop and cardinal Eijk continues to spout legalese, Oldenhuis finds. ‘Eijk stated that the Church had handled matters “inadequately”. Come on! That’s what you would say if a town or province messed up issuing permits for a pigsty. When the matter at issue involves large numbers of people who have been severely damaged and where – even recently – outright lying took place, such completely unfeeling language is inappropriate and inexplicable. It’s high time that transparency and honesty took hold.’
Professor Fokko T. Oldenhuis (Delfzijl, 1950) has been professor by special appointment in Religion and Law at the Faculty of Law and the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies since 2005. He is a member of the department of Private Law and Notary Law of the University of Groningen. In addition, since 1993 he has been deputy justice for the Court of Appeal in Arnhem. Alongside publications about religion and law, Oldenhuis has written many works on liability law and tenancy law.
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