Clergyman Speaks on Dutch Radio of His Ministry to Pedophiles
The Rev. Hans Visser, minister of Paulus Church (Dutch Reformed) in Rotterdam, appeared on Dutch Radio 5 on June 23 to describe his pastoral efforts to assist adults who are attracted to minors. Best known for its ministry to Rotterdam's drug addicts, Paulus Church also offers support to other marginalized groups.
In the interview, Mr. Visser mentioned the recent European outcry against pedophiles, caused by the wide publicity over Belgian serial killer Marc Dutroux. He also mentioned the Netherlands' TBS clinics (Ter Beschikking Stelling aan de regering), mental health clinics that treat offenders upon court order.
"From the beginning we have chosen roughly from three groups: the people roaming the streets; the group of aliens, refugees who were in trouble; and the group of so-called 'sexual minorities,' transsexuals, transvestites, pedophiles, sadomasochists, formerly also the homosexuals of course. But after the Dutroux case we see in Dutch society a growing sharp rejection of pedophiles, severe discrimination against pedophiles, and that has induced us after the Dutroux case to establish a group, consisting partly of pedophiles and partly of interested others, to see what we could do together to also serve the interests of these people. Because the reality is that there happen to be people who fall for children. You cannot put pedophiles under the ground or put them away, you cannot lock them all in prisons and TBS clinics. No, on the contrary, we will have to go into discussion with pedophiles about the way in which they deal with their orientation. And I know pedophiles who do that with honor and conscience, and I find it very sad that that kind of people is now put into one heap with Dutroux, that they are made out to be criminals. That is unacceptable."
The Dutch newspaper Trouw reported in an unrelated article on June 30 that Mr. Visser had argued before a church assembly in 1998 that the churches should distinguish between pedophilic acts with children and pedophilic acts with youths. In the Dutch Radio interview, Mr. Visser repeated his argument, saying, "First I keep thinking it's important to make a difference between ages. I think of twelve, thirteen years [as the age below which sexual contact should not take place]. Children are sexually growing up earlier. In my conviction a pedophile with respect to a child under twelve should abstain from far-reaching sexual acts. I think especially of contacts including penetration. I do not think children are ready for that. There it should be limited to admiration, caressing, romping, hugging, not more. There must be a good understanding with the parents, things should not happen in secret, no presents should be given, no threatening should take place.
"The same also is the case for older children, between fourteen and seventeen, again no secrets, no presents, but it could be that someone starting sexual adulthood could come to a sexual act like masturbation, and that under certain circumstances it is not objectionable. But the pedophile must always realize, 'I am handling someone who is still on the road to adulthood, and I should respect that; I should not do things that harm this child.' And of course there will always remain pedophiles of which we say: Yes, there is no good solution for them, and they are still a danger for society, just like there are among heterosexual rapists. And some of these people should be locked away indefinitely, but that is relatively a very small group of people."
The program also included interviews with a pedophile and with a sexologist from NVSH, the Dutch Sexual Reform Movement.
The interviewer, Mirjam de Winter, spoke of her own impressions of the pedophiles with whom Mr. Visser works. "At the moment there are many walking around with suicidal tendencies," she said. "Reactions from society like 'lock up and kill off' I find shocking. Although it is not my intention to make a plea for pedophilia, I think we have gone too far."
Mr. Visser told Philia that his pastoral work with adults who are attracted to minors consists of "personal conversations, correspondence and telephone counselling as well as political pastorate, aiming at emancipation of this oppressed and persecuted group. We react to recent developments, but try to avoid hurting people's feelings."
Mr. Visser spoke of societal anger against minor-attracted adults in a speech that he gave in December 1998 at "The Other Side of the Coin," a conference on pedophilia hosted by Paulus Church. In the speech, he said that such anger is sometimes redirected toward clergy who minister to pedophiles.
"My colleague Joseph Doucé also was engaged in pastorate for pedophiles in France in the eighties," Mr. Visser said. "In the end it led to his death. He was killed and there are strong clues that that was related to his pastoral care for pedophiles, which was completely misunderstood. Joseph Doucé remains for me a good example of a pastor, a shepherd. The good shepherd risks his life for his sheep. In the same way Doucé gave his life in the pastorate for these people. I still hope that that was not in vain."
Radio 5 Documentaire (Dutch) [Desire's Child-Love Pages]
Pastorate and Pedophilia. By Hans Visser. [Desire's Child-Love Pages]
© 1999 Heather Elizabeth Peterson