THE HAGUE (AFP) - A Dutch Catholic bishop burned alive in 1937 by Japanese troops for protecting Chinese girls from rape may become the patron saint of sex abuse victims worldwide.
Frans Wiertz, who is bishop of Roermond in the south-eastern Netherlands, has sent a dossier to the Vatican requesting martyred bishop Frans Schraven be beatified, one step away from becoming a saint, the bishopric said on its website on Monday.
Bishop Wiertz "suggests that he be considered as the patron saint of victims of sexual abuse", it said.
Dutch-born Schraven was killed in October 1937 in Zhengding, 260km south of Beijing, for not handing over Chinese girls the invading Japanese army wanted to turn into sex slaves also known as "comfort women".
The 200 girls were among around 5,000 people who had sought refuge at Schraven's bishopric soon after the start of the the Sino-Japanese war.
According to witness accounts, when Japanese troops came to ask for the girls, Schraven said: "You can kill me if you want but you will never get what you ask for." The soldiers returned hours later, handcuffed Schraven and eight other priests, doused them in petrol and burned them alive.
"Fortunately there are people in the Church who chose the right side, who condemned abuse and who sacrificed their lives when it was necessary," Wiertz wrote.
"There have in recent years been many reports about abuse within the Church. It's shameful to see that even the faithful can be guilty of such things," he said.
Tens of thousands of people were victims of sexual abuse at the hands of the Roman Catholic church in the Netherlands between 1945 and 2000, with an independent commission identifying 800 alleged perpetrators.
Prolific sexual abuse by priests has shaken the Catholic church in recent years, including a string of paedophile scandals from Austria to the United States.