Salesians suspend two after pedophilia remarks

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ROME -- The Salesians of St. John Bosco removed two European members from their duties after it was discovered one belonged to a pro-pedophilia organization and another made remarks defending pedophilia.

The Salesian headquarters in Rome said a Dutch priest identified only as Father "B" and the superior of the Salesians in the Netherlands, Father Herman Spronck, had both been suspended.

"The Belgium-Holland Province officially announced that Father B no longer has permission to carry out any pastoral activity and that Father Spronck has been relieved of his office as delegate," the congregation said in a May 23 press release.

The Salesian provincial of Belgium-Holland, Father Jos Claes, said that to the Salesians' "great surprise," Father "B" was a member of a Dutch-based association that advocates legalizing sexual relations between an adult and child.

Father Claes said the association is "not compatible with our Salesian identity" and "we therefore condemn the membership and the opinions of Father van B."

The province set up a committee to collect information about Father "B's" actions and statements, Father Claes said, and a committee report "will be sent to the superiors of the Salesian congregation in Rome."

Father Spronck was dismissed from his position as head of the Salesians in the Netherlands after RTL radio published a transcript of an interview with the priest in which he reportedly said sexual relations between adults and children should be allowed.

The priest is quoted as saying, "We shouldn't consider age so rigidly. You should never break into the personal space of a child if the child does not want that, but that has to do with the child himself. There are also children who themselves indicate that it is okay. Sexual contact is then also possible."

The provincial of Belgium-Holland said, "We distance ourselves completely from the comments by Father H. Spronck" and the order suspended him "from all delegated authority" within the Salesian order.

The order's headquarters offered its apologies and said, "We can understand that this news has undoubtedly once again seriously wounded the justified sensitivities of many persons."

It said, "The congregation will take the necessary disciplinary steps in conformity with the protocol in place since 2002 and with the norms given by the church in this matter."

The Dutch bishops' conference and the conference of Dutch religious launched a "broad external and independent inquiry" into cases of clerical sexual abuse in May 2010 after more than 1,500 people contacted a victims' assistance hotline and more than 50 formal complaints were filed in just three months.

The bishops and religious superiors have strongly condemned all forms of sexual abuse, saying it is contrary to the Gospel and the dignity of the human person.

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