Lawyer Wants Dutch Cardinal's Evidence on Sex Abuse

By Harro ten Wolde
September 2, 2010

(Reuters) - Cardinal Ad Simonis, a former head of the Dutch Catholic Church, could become the first senior Church official to testify in a Dutch court in a sexual abuse case involving a former priest, a lawyer said on Thursday.

Lawyer Martin de Witte said he had asked a court in Middelburg to establish whether Simonis knew about the priest's misdeeds when he worked in his diocese, and whether he agreed to the priest's transfer to another region where he was arrested and convicted for sexual abuse in 1990.

The Dutch Church is facing a string of complaints about predator priests and 900 victims have come forward in recent months, part of a wave of scandals and complaints shaking the Church in several European countries.

"We want to establish that the Catholic Church, and Simonis when he was bishop of Rotterdam, knew about the priest abusing kids," De Witte told Reuters on Thursday. Simonis, 78, could be the first cardinal to testify in a court in Europe.

"I hope many will follow," De Witte said, adding that he had had to summon Simonis, the former head of the Dutch bishops' conference, to court because the Church refuses to cooperate.

Summoning a cardinal in such cases is rare. Cardinal Bernard Law, former archbishop of Boston, and Cardinal Norberto Rivera of Mexico City have been questioned under oath in abuse cases.

A court spokeswoman in Middelburg in the southwestern Netherlands said judges still had to look into the request to hear Simonis and the court had not yet set a timetable.

In May, Dutch Catholic Church authorities gave the go-ahead for an independent one-year investigation into allegations of sexual abuse by priests and promised it their full cooperation.

The investigators will look into allegations of abuse over the past 65 years and try to establish who is accountable.

De Witte, representing a 34-year-old man abused by the former priest in 1984, does not want to wait for the investigation as the cardinal is now 78. He also aims to summon Bishop Huub Ernst, who dismissed the priest after his conviction.

Simonis said earlier this year that in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s the Dutch Church did not know about any sexual abuse of children.

Most reports of abuse in the Netherlands date back to the 1950s and 60s, with fewer from later years as Catholic boarding schools started to close in the 1970s.

Last week leaked tapes of Cardinal Godfried Daneels emerged in neighbouring Belgium in which he urged a victim not to reveal he had been sexually abused by a bishop.

Germany's Catholic bishops announced tougher guidelines for dealing with sexual abuse cases on Tuesday.

(Editing by Marcel Michelson and Tim Pearce)


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