Catholic church abuse: Castration ‘nothing unusual’

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20 March 2012

The case of the young boy who was castrated while in the care of catholic priests does not stand alone. On Tuesday, Dagblad de Limburger wrote that in the fifties underage boys were castrated without their parents’ permission in psychiatric institutions in the provinces of Noord-Brabant and Limburg. So how common was this practice? The Volkskrant talked to two historians.

Nothing unusual

Psychiatrists, politicians, lawyers and doctors were all agreed that castration was the cure-all for what were considered sexual ills’, historian Theo van der Meer tells the paper. ‘It was nothing unusual’, fellow historian Marnix Koolhaas adds.

The boy who was castrated in 1956 after having been sexually abused by catholic priests was sent to a psychiatric institution. It was one of the places where men who were considered to be sexually deviant – the boy was allegedly homosexual – were castrated, a practice that was allowed to continue until the late sixties, the Volkskrant writes.


Castration was the easy way out, it was thought. The thirties was also the time when eugenics became a popular pseudo science and it was considered best if people with ‘inferior qualities’ did not go on to have offspring. This included criminals and, especially those who had committed crimes of a sexual nature. They were given the choice: castration or a long custodial sentence.

According to figures quoted by the Volkskrant, at least 400 men were castrated up until 1968. 40% were thought to be homosexuals. A large number were repeat sex offenders who had abused children under 16. The distinction between gay and paedophile was not made in those days.

There was another group who ended up in the psychiatric wards: the boys who were sent there by a priest. Chances were that they would end up talking to psychiatrist Aimé Wijffels who specialised in castration, so much so that he became known nationally as ‘the castrator’. Wijffels himself claimed he did not castrate more than 35 men. Koolhaas doubts very much whether this is true. ‘There must have more than 1,000’, he tells the paper.


In the fifties, doubts began to emerge about the voluntary nature of castration. Koolhaas, who spoke to Wijffels shortly before he died in 1991. He said the boys were sent to him by the priests they had confided in during confession. He would then speak to them about sterilisation, not castration. Wijffels thought his catholic faith justified his actions.

The boys and men didn’t know anything about the consequences of the castration. ‘Testesterone production comes to a sudden halt, and the adrenal glands are affected as well. It’s like the body is struck by a thunderbolt.’, Koolhaas tells the paper.

7 Responses to Catholic church abuse: Castration ‘nothing unusual’

  1. Sylvia says:

    Much to the shame of the human race, it is true that there were those who advocated eugenics. i.e., Tommy Douglas, the former leader of the CCF/NDP parties in Canada, and Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood.

    But. my question here is, what happened to the priests or Religious who molested those poor boys? Were they likewise castrated? If not, why not? I’m absolutely not in any way shape or form advocating the practise, but if indeed the claim is that the boy was castrated because he was deemed to be homosexual, why would the priest who molested him not be subjected to the same cruel and inhumane fate? I have seen nothing to date which says that he was.

  2. Lona Hegeman, Yellowknife, NWT says:

    Sylvia: Thank you for placing the dutch castration story within a Canadian context and time frame. That was helpful. For readers not fluent in the dutch language: these reports are by highly credible dutch media sources and a journalist well respected in the area of cleric abuse in The Netherlands. In other words: reports to be taken very very seriously and requiring credible follow up action from government, the dutch roman catholic church and others.

  3. deeplybetrayed says:

    That is my question, too, Sylvia.
    It is obvious that the punishment of castration was a reward for “telling” about the abuse….not for being homosexual.
    I always wondered what the “monkhood” was about besides homosexuality.
    Maybe this is their “specialized ministry”.

  4. Sylvia says:

    Easy does it deeplybetrayed. I am sure there are brothers in various orders who were chaste, and served well and with deep humility and true love of God.

    Well, yes, of course: Brother Andre! I am sure he is rolling in his grave. And I am sure there are more humble and holy brothers like him.

    Your frustration speaks to the damage these predators inflict, and the damage wrought by the cover-ups.

  5. deeplybetrayed says:

    Thank you Sylvia.
    Innocent until proven guilty.

  6. Ben says:

    Sylvia maybe this is the answer to the question, those who managed to escape been detected as pedos naturally will go for a profession where they will trusted, now what better vocation command such trust and unlimited access to children than the RCC priesthood? So they were trained and became priest, they simply used the existing practice to punish their victims.
    Just to add i knew some monks who were very good, much of their mission is prayer and during the time i lived close to a monastry i never heard of castration.

  7. Suzanne Mealey says:

    From the reports I’ve read so far, castrations in Holland were like lobotomies in Canada and the US: they were used experimentally on a variety of patients who exhibited “unacceptable” behaviours.

    Did they cure the problem? Well, yes in the sense that they completely changed the personality of the patient and might stop the offending behaviour.

    Did they create more problems? Of course, anything from leaving them totally incapable of functioning to stroke-like symptoms such as weakness on one side or difficulty speaking.

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