The committee of inquiry into sexual abuse was established in Parliament in response to the VRT documentary series ‘Godforgotten’.
Patrick Nieuwkerk, who was abused for years at a very young age, asks to investigate “how boys like me were treated like garbage bags and passed on”. “It started with a priest and then I ended up in a pedophilia network, which included a senator from a political party and a pediatrician.”
Victims are critical of the arbitration committee that was established after the previous committee on sexual abuse in the Church to compensate victims in outdated files. Victims were then divided into categories. “I have been placed in the most serious category, but we are all victims,” Nieuwkerk said. “Why do you want to pay me? Because of the emotions that I cannot deal with, because of my first suicide attempt, because my daughter is not allowed to touch me, because I have lived alone for sixteen years because I cannot tolerate anyone in bed next to me?”
He also stated that he works fifty to sixty hours a week to tire his body so he can get a few hours of sleep. “I will always wake up at four in the morning. I’ve learned to live with it. “I’m holding on because I don’t want my daughter to have a father who committed suicide,” he added.
I have lost my family, am sick, still have nightmares and extremely low self-esteem. My circle of friends is extremely limited
Victim Jan Puype
“Mr. Bonny (Bishop Johan Bonny, ed.) says that he did not become a priest to clean up this issue, but I did not become a child to be fucked,” said Nieuwkerk. “You can no longer compensate for my life. I want satisfaction for fellow sufferers and want children to be protected. We can’t stop the abuse but we can reduce it.” He called on Justice staff to listen to signals from the children. He also agrees with the proposal to no longer celebrate the day of innocent children on December 28, but to make it the day of abused children. “That would not only be good for the children, but so that the pedophiles at home feel remorseful.”
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Nieuwkerk did acknowledge that compensation is necessary for victims who are not well off and need help. One of them is Jan Puype. He has received compensation, “but that money runs out quickly if I want to go to the psychiatrist twice a week. I am not well off and I cannot afford to go every week, even though I have to take fifteen pills a day.”
Puype outlined the situation he found himself in. “I have lost my family, am sick, still have nightmares and extremely low self-esteem. My circle of friends is extremely limited,” he said. “The shame still dominates. I came out with my story a few years ago and for a long time I felt like I was alone. While 123 complaints have been filed against my perpetrator, who is still alive.”
“Every night I cry”
A third victim, Jean Borms, stated in his testimony that he hoped everyone in the room could hear him well, because he has difficulty speaking due to the amount of aggression he has had to endure. He told how, as an orphan, he ended up in an institution of the Brothers of Charity, where he was abused for years by three brothers, both sexually and physically. Because he had no home to go to, the abuse could continue even during the school holidays. When he told his story to the brother prefect, he was accused of lying. Afterwards the perpetrators tackled him even harder. Even later, when he told his story in a mental health center, he was not believed.
My life would have been very different if I had not been abused. It has affected my work situation, my closest relationships, I am isolated and lonely. I have a lot of physical discomfort and difficult nights
Victim Jean Borms
He was unable to learn to write and calculate properly at school. Reading is possible, but the difficult words are not. He also knew nothing of the world when he was able to leave school. For example, he was arrested after leaving a supermarket without paying, he just didn’t know that was how it was supposed to be.
“I’m not happy, I can’t be in a relationship. I am alone, I only have Jan as a friend (Puype) and a girlfriend (points to Ingrid Schildermans, the maker of ‘Godforgotten’). Every night I cry,” Borms testified. “My life would have been very different if I had not been abused. It has affected my work situation, my closest relationships, I am isolated and lonely. I have a lot of physical discomfort and difficult nights.”
Hear, see and be silent
The victims also denounce the ‘hear, see and remain silent culture’. “There were people who could have saved me if they had not remained silent,” Nieuwkerk said.
They are also hard on the leaders of the Church. Puype says that he visited the outgoing Archbishop Jozef De Kesel and that he felt heard. He later wrote a letter to the Bishop of Bruges Lode Aerts, but he only recently received an answer. In it he listed the punishments his perpetrator received from the Church. For example, he is not allowed to perform a public function, he had to leave his official residence and he now has to rent. Furthermore, his funeral will only have to take place in an intimate circle, Puype read from the letter. He has not yet received an invitation for a personal meeting. “Still nothing happens,” he criticized.
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For brother and sister Coghe, it is important that the parliamentary investigation committee “transcends itself, also beyond the parties”. They are the aunt and uncle of a woman with a disability, who was abused at the age of 9 in the Sint-Idesbald pedagogical center in Roeselare of the Brothers of Charity. “The matter must be cleared up to the bone, including in terms of politics and the judiciary,” it said.
Lisah is now a 37-year-old woman, but was 9 when she became a victim of sexual abuse. The accused, Brother Emile Ceustermans, was acquitted in 2000 by the Ghent Court of Appeal for lack of evidence, although according to the family there was sufficient evidence. The man was sentenced to four years in prison in the first instance in Kortrijk.
Under the mat
According to the girl’s family, “very strange things” happened at the court of appeal. For example, she criticizes the difference in verdict because there was a large burden of proof and the “strongly motivated verdict” in the Court of Kortrijk. The family also finds it remarkable that three councilors of CD&V signature sat in the court, and that attorney Francis Desterbeck – also of CD&V signature – was appointed. “At the Court of Appeal, Francis Desterbeck immediately took a different position than the criminal court and asked for the acquittal without stating reasons,” the Coghe family said. “It is also remarkable that the two educators have withdrawn their previous testimony.”
René Stockman of the Brothers of Charity has swept facts under the rug for years, protected perpetrators and permanently tolerated child abuse. He is partly responsible for other children becoming victims
Brother and sister Coghe
According to sister and brother Coghe, former Superior General of the Brothers of Charity René Stockman “has swept facts under the rug for years, protected perpetrators and permanently tolerated child abuse. He is partly responsible for other children becoming victims.”
Meanwhile, “Lisah struggles with anxiety dreams and anxiety attacks, has a fear of men, fear of black, increased epileptic seizures and has been in therapy for years. Now that she is older and has a desire for a relationship, which is not easy given her disability, it is striking how her signals refer to the abuse,” she added.
Her mother Ria, the sister of the witnesses in the committee, died years ago of sudden heart failure, which according to her brother and sister was also due to the case.
The family hopes that the investigative committee will thoroughly examine the case, both into what happened in the pedagogical center and into the judicial investigation that followed. Griet Coghe stated that her confidence in the judiciary and politics has been seriously damaged. She indicated that she was willing to testify in the hope that trust can be restored “a little bit”.
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