The investigation into unusual spikes in child deaths at Catholic institutions for the mentally disabled in the Netherlands during the mid-1950s now includes two facilities: St. Joseph's for boys, where 34 residents died between 1952 and '55; and St. Anna's for mentally disabled women and girls, where 40 died in the same time frame. (See: "New probe into Dutch Catholic institute deaths") The child deaths occurred in the same Dutch town (Heel, Limburg) at institutions run by the church. The deaths at the boys institution were particularly troubling since the facility housed only 400 children (initial reports indicated 60) and more than 10 boys died each year during the timeframe, the death rate at the institution apparently only one or two residents in the years before and after. The girl's institution was much larger with 1,000 residents and the death rate, though high, is apparently less suspect since many of the residents suffered from significant health problems.
The deaths at least at the boy's facility were probably the result of neglect, according to a former nurse at Saint Joseph who spoke to Dutch newspaper. 'When a colleague cared for the boys, the death rate began to rise. The doctor warned the bishop and the colleague was sent to Belgium,' he told the paper.
The unusually high death rates were uncovered during a church-funded investigation into as many as 2,000 allegations of abuse by clergy in the Netherlands. A final report from that investigation is expected by the end of the year. The diocese of Roermond has "welcomed" the launch of an investigation by the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
According to Radio Netherlands, a spokesperson for the diocese was unable to explain why nothing happened in the past when relatives asked questions about the deaths. "We're talking about the 1950s. A totally different era... I can only say that the Dutch bishops are in favour of ... openness, and this is a good example of that. It was prompted by abuse, and we open up the archives for that.”
According to the Associated Press, "There is no evidence that the unusual number of deaths over a three-year period in the small southern town of Heel was ever investigated for common threads or links to each other."