Dutch probe deaths at Catholic institute

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Dutch prosecutors said Tuesday they had opened an inquest into the deaths of young boys at a psychiatric institute run by the Catholic Church in the 1950s after investigators reported unusually high mortality rates.

A commission probing sex abuse allegations against Roman Catholic clergy said it had found higher than normal death rates among minors from the institute in Heel, situated in the southeastern Netherlands.

"The Deetman commission has found several deaths which raised questions," said the commission in a statement.

"The information concerns a number of deaths of minors that was above the average for the period covering the years 1952, 1953 and 1954," the statement added.

It said the Dutch prosecution service had been informed of the findings, but did not say whether it thought the allegations were linked to sexual abuse.

In a separate statement, prosecutors said 34 boys under the age of 18 died during the years in question, an "above normal" rate, adding that it was opening an inquest into the case.

Prosecutors however added should they discover "facts punishable by law" they would not be able to move on the case, because it would fall beyond the date prosecutable under Dutch law.

"The suspect deaths happened 55 years ago. Therefore there cannot be any enforcement," the statement said, adding that prosecutors opened the inquest because of the impact the incident have on the community.

The Deetman commission was set up by the Dutch church last year to prove allegations of abuse in the Netherlands from 1945 onwards amid a widening paedophile priest scandal affecting several countries in Europe and elsewhere.

© 2011 AFP

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