Lieve van Stappen about her installation “Esse est Percipe”
Esse est Percipe (1999-2012), which grew out of a previous project on foundlings and abandoned children, evokes the ghosts of children abused by the clergy. Belgian artist Lieve Van Stappen explained to us her work.
“Esse est Percipe emerged from a previous project. I made ‘Moving Archives – Foundlings’ when I was an AIR at the Memling in Saint Johns’ Museum, Bruges, Belgium.I there worked together with the ‘Archives of Public Welfare’, Bruges, ‘The Foundling Museum’, London, ‘Mothers for Mothers’, Antwerp who operates a foundling hatch, and last but not least people who had started their lives as foundlings.
During this research I came into contact with former unmarried mothers. Having children without being married was still unacceptable until at least the late 70ties. They told me how, when pregnant, they were cast out by their families, hidden away in a cloister. Their babies were taken/stolen away from them. Some of these pregnancies were the result of rape, rape by priests. Thus I was introduced in the dark underbelly of the Church. These testimonies provided the impetus for “Esse est Percipe”.
The revelations of the now former bishop Van Gheluwe (2010) and the very many accusations and disclosures of paedophilia, the Report of the commission Adriaensens (230610) that was published afterwards, opened a box of Pandora and made this work particularly urgent.
This article I translated illustrates that the church is still, trying to silence its victims, shying away from its responsibility as an institution. Yet of the estimated 20 to 40 000 victims of the clergy in Belgium since 1945, less than 1000 applied for a settlement.
This is a very small percentage indeed.
The Centre for Arbitration on Sexual Abuse is intended for the victims of sexual abuse, whose offenses were committed within the Church, are barred by now.
The article (see De Standaard) reflects the problems that have arisen. The victims trust is damaged again.
One could ask why no representative of the victims is part of the Centre for Arbitration. He or she could have pointed out that: “What the counterparty therefore must tell you is that this settlement, a distinction must be drawn between the (barred) crimes of sexual abuse, on the other hand the policy mistakes of the institution of the Church, in particular how the Church and its leaders afterwards responded to the cry of victims with denial and blame shifting. Thus, the complaints of the victims were without consequences. The clauses in the settlement are not on the same facts and do not belong in this document. Victims best sign nothing until they have sought advice from their lawyer, the Working Group on Human Rights in the Church or another recognized organization” as Roel Verschueren wrote in an opinion piece in ‘de Standaard’ 08.October 2012.
Verschueren’s formal legal party and nominee director for a group of anonymous victims of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, in June 2011 – the first in Europe – a class action instituted against the Holy See, the Belgian bishops and major superiors of Belgian nuns.
Tomorrow (31. October 2012) is the last day victims can apply for a settlement at the Centre for Arbitration on Sexual Abuse. So far, 463 applications were submitted, of which 8 are completed by now.
One cannot mention the misdemeanours of the church separately of what happens in the secular world.
The sexual abuse scandal surrounding the late television host Jimmy Savile, in a respected institution as the BBC, shocked the entire world. Yet one only has to google: ‘Savile Top of the Pops’, November 25th, 1975, to watch Savile grope a terrified teenage girl when he was life on air. The public then, seems not to have been bothered by this. The girl complained immediately after the facts about this, but was dismissed. Savile as a successful DJ, TV presenter and BBC star, did have a godlike status, and felt protected by it.
As many of the accused clergy, Savile was involved in charity with young, vulnerable people: easily to prey on. The church has a culture of secrecy, while the BBC is said to have a culture of avoiding as to wade responsibility.
The results are the same: predators were protected and got free reign. Saviles’ victims were afraid to speak out, and not taken seriously if they did. Witnesses were weary until after his dead.
Here too, as in other institutions, to protect its own reputation was given higher priority than the fate of the vulnerable, abused, youngsters.
It was not until 2004, when Belgian Dutroux was found guilty in sex crime cases that the public perception of paedophiles changed drastically.
Times are changing indeed.
At least in part of the Western world victims are no longer denied, and encouraged to speak out. It is understandable that many of them choose to remain silent about these horrifying events that happened to them.
Lately procedures and screenings were developed, regulations and laws designed to detect and punish perpetrators. Yet the all the child protection and whistle-blowing policies will never be full proof.For some children their own family is a most hostile and dangerous environment.
These children amount to the vast majority of abused youth, I was told.
Lieve Van Stappen
October 30th 2012