The Dutch Catholic Church and the Salesian order are investigating revelations that a Salesian priest served on the board of a group that promotes pedophilia with the full knowledge of his boss.
The order's top official in the Netherlands, Delegate Herman Spronck, confirmed in a statement that the priest _ identified by RTL Nieuws as 73-year-old "Father Van B." _ served on the board of "Martijn," a group that campaigns to end the Dutch ban on adult-child sex.
The group is widely reviled but not outlawed.
"Of course we reject this and distance ourselves from this personal initiative" on the part of the priest, Spronck said in a statement. "Membership in such organizations does not fit with the ethos of the Salesian order."
However, Spronck's own superior in Belgium said he will investigate both Spronck and Van B., after both men were quoted by RTL Nieuws as saying such relationships aren't always harmful.
Superior Jos Claes told Belgian television on Saturday he "couldn't imagine" that both men would not be disciplined, but said he must make sure of the facts first.
"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 its founder was arrested for alleged possession of child pornography, a case that is ongoing.
Van B. told RTL he remains a member of Martijn and now lives in a retirement home in eastern Netherlands.
In a second interview, RTL quoted Spronck as saying he was aware of Van B.'s pedophilia and membership in Martijn, and even of two instances where the priest had been fined by police for exposing himself in public. But he said he didn't think that was sufficient reason to ban him from the order.
"Removing someone from the order is something you would only do in the case of grave moral transgression, such as rape. There was never any question of that," Spronck was quoted as saying.
Spronck added that adult-child sexual relations do not necessarily have to be damaging, including with children as young as 12.
Spronck and his organization could not be reached Saturday for comment. According to its website, the Dutch arm of the Salesians has 14 employees and 400 volunteers and aims to help poor children.
Dutch Catholic Church spokesman Pieter Kohnen said Saturday that, even with sex abuse scandals rocking the church worldwide, this particular case was "unbelievable" and the church utterly rejects pedophilia. He said if Superior Claes did not act quickly to reform the Dutch Salesian order's leadership, the matter would be referred to Rome.
RTL's report detailed Van B.'s movements over two decades, through three dioceses and six parishes in the Netherlands where the priest often departed under a cloud of suspicion.
Pastor Rudy de Kruijf in the eastern city of Wijchen said Van B. had helped him as recently as Christmas, but his church ended contact immediately when it learned of his past.
Kohnen said the Church has done extensive background checks on all employees since 2004, but in Van B.'s case that would not have helped since he was a volunteer.
Thousands of past cases of alleged sexual abuse by Dutch priests are under investigation by an independent but church-funded commission in the Netherlands.
The Dutch church, which has more than 4 million members, 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 just as similar stories were snowballing in neighboring Germany.
Several of the most prominent abuse cases coming to light recently in the Netherlands have also involved Salesians at boarding schools and orphanages in the 1950s and 1960s.