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Aid to the Church in Need confirms 'credible' allegation of sexual assault against founder

by Will Maule
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Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has confirmed that it received a "credible" allegation of "aggravated sexual assault" against its founder, Father Werenfried van Straaten.

The charity's executive president, Thomas Heine-Geldern, said the allegation was made by a Dutch priest in 2010, and related to an incident in 1973. Fr van Straaten, who died in 2003, founded ACN in 1947. Heine-Geldern insisted that a “transparent and full investigation" would be conducted into the allegation, which relates to an alleged sexual assault against a 20-year-old woman who worked for the charity. 

"The description was credible, even if the question of guilt could no longer be clarified due to the death of Fr van Straaten,” Heine-Geldern said of the allegation. 

He added that the victim had been offered financial compensation: "Those responsible at Aid to the Church in Need followed the practice recommended for the ecclesiastical sector (sic) in Germany for coming to terms with cases of abuse. Therefore, the victim was awarded financial aid of 16,000 euros in recognition of the suffering.”

Heine-Goldern said that ACN informed relevant Church authorities as soon as the allegation came to light in Autumn 2010. "The initiation of civil action, which was considered at the same time, proved to be impossible as the accused had already died,” he explained. 

The charity added that, according to archived records, it is assumed that Fr van Straaten "gave money to the father of the person concerned". However, the father insisted that the payment did not concern the alleged sexual assault, but was in fact compensation for unfair treatment by van Straaten when he left his position as an ACN employee. 

ACN said it did not release information regarding the accusation because the individual concerned had expressed a wish for confidentiality.

Heine-Geldern noted that no other allegations were known of regarding Fr van Straaten.

Last month, ACN announced it would be postponing this year’s annual commemoration of its founder, citing coronavirus restrictions.

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