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.
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.