Cleric gave lethal drug doses to 37 disabled boys in 1950s, says Dutch prosecutor
Staff at a dysfunctional home for boys failed to report crimes of now-deceased ‘Brother Syringe’
A CATHOLIC brother gave deadly overdoses of medication to at least 37 disabled and bedridden boys in a church-run residential home near the southern Dutch city of Roermond between 1952 and 1954, according to the Netherlands public prosecutor.
The cluster of deaths was uncovered by investigators from the Deetman Commission, whose 1,100-page report confirmed last year that more than 800 Catholic priests, monks and brothers systematically abused as many as 20,000 Dutch children in their care between 1945 and 1985.
The circumstances of the Roermond deaths were not explained in the commission’s report, but the prosecutor, Peter Muijen, said on Friday he was satisfied that there had been “foul play” – and named the man believed responsible as Brother Andreas, now deceased but then a member of a religious community called the Brothers of Saint Joseph.
That Mr Muijen took the extraordinary step of naming Brother Andreas was unusual enough. However, he went further, saying that had Andreas been alive and his actions within the statute of limitations, he would undoubtedly have been charged with murder or manslaughter or at the very least involuntary manslaughter.
He said the brother – whose lay name has not been revealed – had been able to carry out his “criminal actions” because he had been the sole carer for the boys, aged between 11 and 18. They had been confined to their beds and totally dependent on his ministrations as an unqualified nurse.
The prosecutor also revealed that paperwork certifying death by natural causes had been forged by the staff doctor at the home, St Joseph’s House in the small town of Heel, in an effort to protect Brother Andreas.
The doctor’s name is known to the authorities – and he is also understood to be dead.
Some survivors of the home, who have spoken to the investigators, claim the doctor was overheard blaming the deaths – which became almost routine during 1952, 1953 and 1954 – on “stupid Brother Andreas, who uses too much morphine”. They said Andreas became known as “Brother Syringe” because of his tendency to “quieten” the boys using injections which some accounts suggest were of Luminal, a type of phenobarbital used by the Nazis a decade earlier to kill some 50 intellectually disabled children in “experiments” at a clinic in Ansbach in Germany – where a plaque was unveiled in their memory in 1988.
Mr Muijen’s report also confirmed what had previously been widely suspected: that many of those in authority at the home – which housed some 450 severely disabled boys – knew what was happening but did nothing or were powerless to stop it.
Labour inspectors who visited the home – described as unsanitary, understaffed and often out of control – reported their concerns to the church authorities, but failed to alert the police when they realised no action was being taken.
A formal complaint was finally made to the church authorities in 1959, but even then the diocese failed to act.
Only when cold case investigators from the Deetman Commission examined the home’s archives in 2010 did they uncover the spike in deaths – which ended when Brother Andreas was transferred to another institution.
Few of Andreas’s fellow brothers from St Joseph’s House are still alive, but one, Brother Polycarpus, traced by a Dutch newspaper, said he could not believe the children were deliberately killed.
“He may not have looked after the children as well as he could have, but murder – no, not that”, he opined, characterising Andreas as a religious and faithful if not particularly intelligent man, trapped in a dysfunctional institution – a picture roundly rejected by families and survivors.
This is not the only cluster of deaths that occurred in the town of Heel in the first years of the 1950s.
Deetman investigators are also looking into the deaths of 40 girls, all of whom were under 12 and some of whom were toddlers or babies, who died at an associated nearby home, Saint Anna’s, at about the same time.
There is no suggestion that Brother Andreas had access to the girls or played any role in their deaths. However, it has been suggested that random injections of “calming” medication were regarded as an acceptable way of “managing” the children at both homes – and that, in any case, their lives were not regarded as having much, if any, intrinsic value.
Last year’s Deetman report amounted to a compendium of horrors, the precise details of each of which are only now being pieced together.
Much more will inevitably be learned about St Anna’s, and about another boys’ home, where up to a dozen teenagers were allegedly castrated for showing “homosexual feelings”.