AMSTERDAM – A Dutch priest who endorses pedophilia has been barred and his superior placed on administrative leave until an investigation into the pair is completed, a Catholic official said Monday.
Jos Claes, regional superior of the Salesian order for the Netherlands and Belgium, said the priest, identified as Father Van B., cannot serve "in any church function, anywhere."
He spoke with The Associated Press by telephone from Brussels.
Dutch press agency RTL Nieuws published interviews on Friday in which the 73-year-old Van B. acknowledged being fined twice for lewd conduct and having served on the board of Martijn, an organization that advocates for legalizing pedophilia.
The group is widely reviled but not illegal. Its founder is facing charges for alleged possession of child pornography.
RTL quoted Van B.'s superior, Herman Spronck — until Monday the top Salesian in the Netherlands, known as a "Delegate" — as saying he was aware of repeated transgressions in Van B.'s past. However he didn't try to stop him from moving through three dioceses and six parishes in the Netherlands, often leaving under a cloud of suspicion, because he believed in the priest's promises to reform.
Spronck then added that he himself believes not all adult-child sexual relationships with children older than 11 are harmful.
After Spronck's removal Monday, the chairman of the Salesians' organization Lex Enklaar in the Netherlands issued several statements on the group's website, including one condemning Van B. and another distancing the order from Spronck and his comments.
"The membership in and the ideas of such organizations are incompatible with our Salesian identity," Lex Enklaar said.
The Salesians undertake projects to help poor children. According to its website, the Dutch arm has 14 employees and 400 volunteers.
"When the investigation is complete, the results will be referred to Rome," where the order's top officials will decide on further steps, Claes said.
Dutch Catholic Church spokesman Pieter Kohnen told the AP Saturday that, even with sex abuse scandals rocking the church in recent years, this particular case was "unbelievable" and Catholicism utterly rejects pedophilia.
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.