msnbc.com news services
updated 1/7/2011 12:54:58 PM ET 2011-01-07T17:54:58

Laurence Brett, a former priest who vanished twice amid accusations that he sexually abused more than two dozen children in the U.S., has died in the French Caribbean island of Martinique, a hospital official said Friday.

Brett died at the Pierre Zobda Quitman hospital in the capital of Fort-de-France on Christmas Eve, said Joelle Louisor, a hospital administrator.

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Louisor said she did not know the cause of death. But the Hartford Courant newspaper in Connecticut reported he apparently fell down some stairs and hit his head. The Courant said he was 73.

Brett disappeared in 1993 and was found by the Courant in 2002 on the Dutch Caribbean island of St. Maarten. The newspaper reported that he was living in a villa by a lagoon and that he had identified himself to acquaintances as a writer, a businessman and a CIA agent.

Brett then vanished again.

Two other priests later publicly apologized for keeping secret Brett's location.

Brett, who was defrocked, was accused of sexually abusing two dozen altar boys and others in Connecticut, New Mexico, California and Maryland. The accusations date back to the 1960s.

"A monster is dead," Bob Russell told The Baltimore Sun upon hearing the news on Thursday. The insurance broker said he encountered abuse at Brett's hands as a student at Calvert Hall in 1973, the newspaper reported. "Children in his circle are no longer going to be put in harm's way."

The Archdiocese of Baltimore did not immediately return a message for comment but posted a statement on its website.

"The prayers of the Archdiocese are with the victims of Laurence Brett and with all victims of sexual abuse," it said. "The Church reiterates its fervent belief that there is no place in the priesthood for anyone who would harm a child."

An official at Calvert Hall College High School, in Baltimore, Maryland, where Brett once worked, declined comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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