Thousands of children suffered sexual abuse in Dutch Catholic institutions, and church officials failed to adequately
address the abuse or help the victims, according to a long-awaited investigation.
The report, released on Friday, by an independent commission said Catholic officials failed to tackle the widespread abuse "to prevent scandals".
It said the suspected number of abuse victims who spent some of their youth in church institutions was likely somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000, according to a summary of the report.
The commission said it received some 1,800 complaints of abuse at Catholic schools, seminaries and orphanages and that the institutions suffered from "a failure of oversight".
It estimated that one in 10 Dutch Catholic children suffered some form of abuse since 1945, including rape. That figure doubles to one in five children for those who were in the care of Catholic institutions such as orphanages, boarding schools and seminaries.
Most cases were of mild to moderate abuse, such as touching, but it estimated "several thousand" instances of rape.
The findings appear to show that abuse was more widespread in the Netherlands even than in Ireland.
The commission was set up last year under the leadership of Wim Deetman, a former government minister, to investigate allegations of abuse dating from 1945.
The investigation was commissioned by two Catholic bodies, the Conference of Bishops and the Dutch Religious Conference, in 2010 after cases surfaced involving paedophile priests in the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Germany, Australia, Canada and the United States.
Abuse by Catholic priests, laymen and laywomen was systematically covered up by the church to protect its reputation, the commission said, adding that the church was guilty of "inadequate supervision" and "inadequate action".
"The Catholic Church had a culture of not airing its dirty laundry," Deetman told reporters.
Church leaders said the findings filled them with shame and sorrow. In a joint statement, the Conference of Bishops and Dutch Religious Conference (KNR) offered a "heartfelt apology".
"The bishops and directors of the KNR are shocked by the sexual abuse of minors and the practices described in the final report. It fills us with shame and sorrow," they said.
"The perpetrators are not the only ones to blame. Church authorities who did not act correctly and did not give priority
to the interests of and care for these victims also share in this blame. We deeply regret this abuse."
A new complaints committee set up to handle sexual abuse in the Catholic Church will give priority to complaints about at least 105 perpetrators who are still alive, the commission said.
The commission has already published some recommendations. It has urged the Church to pay compensation to victims and to set up a centre to help those abused.
The Catholic church in the Netherlands agreed last month to launch a compensation system clearing the way for victims of abuse by priests and other church workers to receive payments.
The new compensation system has a scale starting at $6,500 and rising to a maximum of $130,000 depending on the nature of the abuse.
According to the Dutch Central Bureau for Statistics, 29 per cent of the Dutch population of 16 million identified themselves as Catholics in 2008.