AMSTERDAM - The head of a Catholic religious order in the Netherlands has confirmed that one of his subordinate priests served on the board of an organization that promotes pedophilia.
Herman Spronck, head of the Dutch arm of the Salesian order, said in a statement yesterday that the priest served on the board of the "Martijn" organization, which is widely reviled but not illegal.
"Of course we reject this and distance ourselves from this personal initiative" on the part of the priest, Spronck's statement said.
"Membership in such organizations does not fit with the ethos of the Salesian order."
However, RTL Nieuws, which broke the story, published interviews of both Spronck and the priest, identified as 73-year-old "Father Van B.," in which they defend some pedophile relationships.
"Society thinks these relationships are harmful. I disagree," RTL quoted Van B. as saying. He served on Martijn's board from 2008 until 2010, when the organization's founder was arrested for alleged possession of child pornography. That case is ongoing.
RTL quoted Spronck as saying that "formally I always say that everyone must obey the law, but these relationships do not necessarily have to be damaging."
Spronck and his organization could not be reached late yesterday for comment.
Thousands of past cases of alleged sexual abuse by priests are under investigation by an independent - but church-funded - commission in the Netherlands. It is headed by a former government minister, Wim Deetman.
The Dutch church, which has more than 4 million members, first set up a body to deal with abuse allegations in 1995. But the independent commission was formed last year after shocking abuse cases were uncovered here at the same time similar stories were snowballing in neighboring Germany.
Several of the first and most prominent abuse cases that have come to light in the Netherlands have also involved Salesian priests.