THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Cardinal emeritus Adrianus Simonis, who led the Dutch Catholic Church during a period of secularization in society and, after his retirement, had to confront abuse in the church, has died at age 88, his former archdiocese of Utrecht announced Wednesday.
His successor, Cardinal Willem Eijk, said the church had lost someone “with a great pastoral heart.”
Simonis was named bishop of the port city of Rotterdam in 1970 and became Archbishop of Utrecht in 1983. Pope John Paul II appointed him a cardinal on May 25, 1985. The pope accepted his retirement in 2007.
Simonis denied knowledge of abusive behavior in the church, and once when commenting on such abuse caused outrage when he used an expression of ignorance commonly used after World War II about atrocities committed by the Nazis who occupied the Netherlands.
Testifying as a witness in a court case in 2011, Simonis said the Dutch Catholic hierarchy only really began addressing the issue of sex abuse after reports of widespread abuse began emerging from the United States in the 1990s.
“For us, it did not exist,” Simonis said.
The church said in a statement that Simonis died Wednesday at a care center in the town of Voorhout near The Hague. Cause of death and funeral arrangements were not immediately announced.