The Catholic church in the Netherlands was blamed yesterday for the systematic and widespread of abuse of up to 20,000 children and adolescents in its homes and institutions, in a damning independent report which castigated the clergy for failing to deal with the problem or help the victims.
The report's shocking conclusions, recently echoed elsewhere in Europe, covered abuse in Catholic schools and orphanages since 1945. They followed an investigation into the conduct of teachers, priests and their victims which led to more than 1,800 complaints being made against the church.
"What was happening was sexual abuse, violence and spiritual terror," said Bert Smeets, one of the victims who attended the presentation of the report. "All sorts of things happened but nobody knows exactly what or by whom. This way they have avoided responsibility."
A statement from senior Dutch Catholic bishops said: "This episode fills us with shame and sorrow."
The investigation, which was based on a survey of more than 34,000 people, found that around 10 per cent of Dutch children had suffered some form of abuse. But the proportion doubled to 20 per cent among children who had spent all or part of their youth in Catholic-run institutions.
Some 800 members of the Catholic clergy and church employees were identified as perpetrators of abuse. More than 100 of them were said to be still alive although it was not known whether they still held positions within the church. About 29 per cent of the Dutch population is Catholic.