Nineteen women are suing a Dutch monastery and its Catholic order over claims that they were subjected to forced labour and abuse by nuns between 1951 and 1979 for the benefit of the order or outside organisations, such as the Dutch Royal House. These women were kept as virtual prisoners as children or young adults.
The Sisters of the Good Shepherd, which is active in 70 countries, are the order involved in the case, and it concerns their treatment of the girls – some as young as 11 – who had been placed in their care by either the courts or at the request of their parents. At least 15,000 women, accused of being “fallen women” were confined and forced to work in the laundry and sewing rooms. The victims said they did not receive a proper education and were often beaten.
A report by John Exalto and Anton van Renssen of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam includes a statement from one of the women that this work also included sewing for Princess Margriet of the Netherlands’ linen trousseau and laundry for the rest of the Dutch Royal Family.
There have been similar claims of abuse in monasteries run by the same order in several other countries, including the United States, Australia and Ireland.
The Dutch government recognised their role in placing the women in the institutions following a report published in 2019 and offered each of them €5,000. The Sisters of the Good Shepherd has apologised and recognised that the circumstances were “inappropriate” but dispute the facts and disclaims their liability as the statute of limitations is up.
Liesbeth Zegveld and Brechtje Vossenberg, the lawyers for the claimants, said their clients wanted recognition of the unlawfulness of their treatment.
“The superior attitude the Sisters of the Good Shepherd still sharply contrasts with the continual suffering of the women,” Zegveld said. “Finally these women have the courage to go to court and demand recognition of the irreparable damage done to them in their youth.”