I hate to report sickening news. When I do, I try at least to find some important lesson in the story that I think will provide readers with possibility for making improvements in the world.
For several days I have tried to find some such possibility in the horrific story out of the Netherlands that in the 1950s, Catholic Church officials approved of the castration of 11 boys in church-run psychiatric institutions, as a method to cure homosexuality. (According to a news report in The New York Times, there may also be some evidence that castration was used to punish youths for reporting sexual abuse by priests.) Very little possibility for improvement exists in such a story.
If these revelations were not sickening enough, it was also reported that the commission that the Catholic church established to investigate sexual abuse by priests was told of these incidents, but decided not to include any reference to them in its 1,100 page report last year.
The lastest development, reported in an online story by U.S. Catholic is that church officials have condemned these acts and promised to cooperate in an investigation:
“The Dutch church has pledged to fully cooperate with investigations into reported claims that Catholic institutions castrated boys and young men in their care to rid them of homosexuality.
“Bert Elbertse, spokesman for the Dutch Catholic bishops’ conference, said the bishops found the reports ‘shocking and appalling’ and that they ‘condemn and regret such practices in the strongest possible terms.’
A further comment by Elbertse reveals how truly low the reputation of Catholic officials has sunk:
“Our church has been badly damaged by accusations of sexual abuse. The fact that people were unsurprised by these latest claims suggests our image couldn’t get any worse.”
Elbertse also tried to explain the castration decisions by saying
“Although the initial public reactions to this newspaper report were very negative, many people are now asking whether the use of castration had more to do with health care at the time than with the church.”
Such an explanation rings terribly hollow, especially in view of a further explanation offered by the Dutch Catholic weekly Katholiek Nieuwsblad. According to the U.S. Catholic story, this Dutch Catholic newspaper
“. . . said records suggested about 400 men were castrated in the Netherlands between 1938 and 1968. The newspaper said castration and electric shock treatment also were used ‘not uncommonly’ on gay men at state-owned institutions in Britain and Scandinavia.
“There was no specific link with Catholicism. Indeed, Catholics and Protestants were against the use of castration as a blow to the integrity of the body.”
One has to wonder how seriously Catholic officials thought of the integrity of the bodies of young men suspected of homosexuality if these same leaders allowed the youths to be castrated.
If there is any lesson to be learned from this story, I think it is that ignorance about homosexuality naturally leads to atrocity. While church officials participating in investigations of these incidents is helpful, a better and more effective step would be for them to educate themselves about scientific knowledge about the realities of sexual orientation.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry