Did the Catholic Church castrate abuse whistleblowers?
It seems the Catholic Church has been doing a better job of
protecting the guilty than the innocent in recent decades
(Image source: Bode Museum, Berlin)
THE DEEPER WE DIG into the recent history of the Catholic Church, the more sordid is the image that presents itself to us. And like the “wheels within wheels” of Ezekiel’s vision, the Keepers of the Faith have been concealing scandals within scandals.
The latest nightmare to emerge from the Dutch Catholic Church illustrates this downward spiral. In 2011, a government commission issued a report on more than a half century of Catholic sexual abuse, finding that a mind-blowing 20,000 Dutch children had been raped and otherwise exposed to “inappropriate” behavior at the hands of at least 800 Catholic priests and caretakers since 1945, much of this occurring with the full knowledge of the Church hierarchy (I reported on it HERE).
Now it turns out that the report (which in any case only examined reported cases) was too optimistic by half. In a story that has been dribbling out since March of this year, even worse abuses occurred under the cloak of the Virgin: The forced castration of children who protested against being raped by priests. In reports published this week in the Dutch NRC Handelsblad and the German Spiegel Online, it is being reported that in the 1950s a still undetermined number of boys under the care of the Dutch Catholic Church were subjected to radical castration, i.e. the complete removal of the testicles, for alleged homosexuality.
So far, only one case has been made public, namely that of Henk Heithuis, who was born in the Netherlands in 1935 and spent much of his life in public and Church-run institutions, including the Catholic Vincentius boarding school in Harreveld, Gelderland. There, one or more Catholic priests raped him during his stay between 1950 and 1953.
Rather than accepting his treatment as part of the divine scheme of things, which is how most victims handled their treatment, Heithuis turned whistleblower and accused one of the institution’s priests of rape. At age twenty – and still a minor under the Dutch law of the time – the young man was committed to the Catholic “House Padua” psychiatric hospital. Found to be a homosexual who supposedly had himself seduced his attacker, the Church's standard defense agains such charges, Heithuis was duly “eugenicized,” i.e. castrated. Although this supposedly occurred at his own request, there is no signed consent form on record. Nobody bothered to ask his parents.
After his “cure” and release from Church custody, Heithuis became a sailor and tried to move on with his life. But the operation left deep physical and mental scars. “Henk looked terrible,” Cornelius Rogge, who cared for the young man after his return to Holland, told Spiegel Online. “The castration had entirely disrupted his fluid and hormonal balance.” Hormone therapy aided his recovery somewhat and he immediately began planning his revenge against the Church that had first raped and then mutilated him. He wanted criminal justice and financial compensation. But this was not be, for just a short time later, in 1956, Heithuis died in an auto accident. Rogge, however, has been keeping the case alive ever since.
After years of research, Dutch journalist Joep Dohmen managed to locate documents and witnesses, but has so far not been able to uncover the names of those responsible for the castration. The machinery of concealment is simply too effective. All signs point to a systematic cover-up perpetrated by the Church authorities and their allies in Holland’s conservative parties. The absence of the castration issue from the 2011 government report, even though the case had been among those examined during the study, suggests that the cover-up is ongoing. But 2012 isn’t 1956, and Dutch society has since evolved in a more humane direction. Thanks to Dohmen’s pressure, and enormous public interest in the Heithuis case and what appear to be many more like it, the Dutch parliament will soon vote on opening up a new and more thorough investigation into the Church’s wretched past.
Let me suggest at this point that there is absolutely no possible justification for this sort of behavior. Yes, I suspect that my Catholic critics – assuming they have read this far, or have bothered reading this essay at all – will point out that back in those days castration was considered a standard eugenic treatment for homosexuality, and that even mathematician Alan Turing, one of the leading figures in Britain’s World War II counterespionage program and one of the creators of the modern computer, was busted for engaging in “unnatural acts” in 1952 and forced to undergo “chemical castration” (he committed suicide in 1954). Moreover, statistics show that you were slightly less likely to be sodomized in a Catholic orphanage than in a secular one. Why should the Catholic Church be held to higher standards than the civil authorities?
The answer is that the Catholic Church claims a divine mandate, and its leader proclaims doctrinal infallibility. If we can’t hold the Catholic Church to a higher standard and greater wisdom in matters of childcare and mental health, what right does it have to dictate to us in any other area?
And yet, the whole business is strangely unsurprising. It seems inevitable that an institution founded on deference, obedience, and earthly impunity would not just tolerate but actually provoke the systematic exploitation of the weak and dependent. Jesus himself appears to have anticipated such an outcome right from the beginning. As he states in Matthew 18:6: “Whoso shall offend one of the little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”
Too bad Saint Peter never got the memo.