March 20, 2012
BRUSSELS — A young man in the care of the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands was surgically castrated decades ago after complaining about sexual abuse, according to new evidence that only adds to the scandal engulfing the church there.
The case, which dates from the 1950s, has increased pressure for a government-led inquiry into sexual abuse in the Dutch church, amid suspicions that as many as 10 young men may have suffered the same fate.
“This case is especially painful because it concerns a victim who was victimized for a second time,” said Peter Nissen, a professor of the history of religion at Radboud University in the Netherlands. “He had the courage to go to the police and was castrated.”
It is unclear, however, whether the reported castration was performed as a punishment for whistle-blowing or what was seen as a treatment for homosexuality.
In 2010, about 2,000 people complained of abuse by priests, church institutions or religious orders in the Netherlands after the Roman Catholic Church commissioned an inquiry. It finally concluded that the number of actual victims over several decades could be 10 times higher.
That committee, led by Wim Deetman, a former education minister, was presented with evidence of the castration case when it was contacted by a friend of the young man, who was castrated in 1956, two years before his death in a road accident.
Since the case emerged, the Deetman Commission has issued a detailed justification of its actions, contending that it was unable to reach any conclusions on the case from the evidence at its disposal.
The victim, Henk Heithuis, lived in Catholic institutions from infancy after being taken into care. When he complained about sexual abuse to the police, Mr. Heithuis, 20 at the time, was transferred to a Catholic psychiatric hospital before being admitted to the St. Joseph Hospital in Veghel, where he was castrated.
Cornelius Rogge, a sculptor whose family became friends with Mr. Heithuis, informed the Deetman Commission about the case, contacting an investigative journalist and author, Joep Dohmen, when there was no clear sign of a follow-up.
On Dutch television, Mr. Rogge described how he knew that the castration had taken place and said he believed that there were other victims.
“We once asked Henk to drop his pants when the women were not present,” Mr. Rogge said. “He did that. He was totally maimed. That was a huge shock for us, of course.”
Mr. Heithuis had also described his ordeal verbally, Mr. Rogge said.
“He was strapped to a bed,” Mr. Rogge said, describing Mr. Heithuis’s statement. “In one stroke, his scrotum was cut out. Then he was taken to an infirmary to rest and recover. Then the other boys received the same treatment. He could hear them screaming.”
Mr. Dohmen, the investigative journalist who broke the news in the daily NRC Handelsblad, said that correspondence from the 1950s and Mr. Heithuis’s testimony to Mr. Rogge suggested that there could have been an additional nine cases. Mr. Dohmen said he uncovered another case. A gay man, who had not been abused, was also castrated, he said. That man has asked that his identity not be made public.
Mr. Dohmen said he could not provide further evidence of the other possible victims.
In an e-mailed comment, Mr. Rogge said he believed that the castration was a punishment.
Mr. Dohmen said that the man accused of abusing Mr. Heithuis was investigated but not prosecuted. He was transferred to Nova Scotia, where he started a home for boys.