Late Dutch Catholic brother suspect in '50s deaths

June 28, 2012 - 11:24 AM

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A brother at a Catholic institute for disabled boys may have been involved in the suspicious deaths of 37 patients in the 1950s, Dutch prosecutors announced Thursday.

However, the prosecutors said they will not further investigate the deaths because the suspect, identified as Brother Andreas, has died and any alleged crimes happened too long ago to be prosecuted.

The investigation gave no causes of the deaths, but said the boys "were more likely to have died as a result of a crime than of natural causes."

The deaths happened so long ago that prosecutors said exhuming bodies of the victims for toxicology tests would likely not have helped pin down a cause of death.

Prosecutors began a preliminary investigation last year after an independent commission of inquiry into sexual abuse in the Dutch Catholic Church uncovered an unusually high number of deaths at the now-defunct St. Joseph's institute in the southern town of Heel between 1952 and 1954.

Prosecutors said that if they had launched a further probe, it would have investigated the actions of Brother Andreas, the St. Joseph's institute doctor, identified as Dr. Verstraelen, the congregation of Holy Joseph that ran the institute, the Roermond Diocese and employment inspectors.

Prosecutors said their investigation found that Brother Andreas was not qualified to care for disabled boys and that the large number of deaths sharply declined after he was transferred to another institution.

The Roermond Diocese called the findings "shocking" in a written reaction and said it was "incomprehensible" that the diocese did not report the unusually high number of deaths at the time.

The independent inquiry into sex abuse last year reported that up to 20,000 children endured sexual abuse at Dutch Catholic institutions over the past 65 years, and church officials failed to adequately address it or help the victims.