A prominent Belgian figure and board member of a Catholic charity which Pope Francis last week ordered to cease offering euthanasia in its 15 psychiatric hospitals appears to be defying the order.
Herman Van Rompuy, a former Belgian Prime Minister who from 2009 to 2014 served as the European Union's principal representative, posted a message on Twitter on Sunday, saying: “The time of Roma locuta, causa finite is long past.”
The Latin phrase, which means “Rome has spoken; the case is closed,” derives from a statement St. Augustine made early in the fifth century.
A member of the board of trustees of the Brothers of Charity group in Belgium, Van Rompuy was responding to canon law expert Kurt Martens who last week published a list of the board members that included Van Rompuy and who made the contested decision to allow euthanasia in its hospitals earlier this year.
As well as serving two terms as president of the European Council, Van Rompuy was a member of the Christian Democratic and Flemish party and led Belgium’s government from 2008 to 2009.
His tweet is a first public sign that the board, which is linked to the religious Brothers of Charity Congregation but separate from it, may not accept the Pope’s instruction issued last week to cease offering euthanasia to psychiatric patients under its care by the end of August.
The charity, whose board is mainly made up of laypeople, announced in May it would permit euthanasia if the patients were in a state of “unbearable suffering” and with the approval of at least three doctors, including one psychiatrist.
The group is expected to face legal action and have its Catholic status revoked if it does not rescind the policy.
Speaking to the Register Aug. 14, Br. René Stockman, superior general of the Brothers of Charity Congregation, said he had seen Van Rompuy’s tweet but had “no idea about his intention” or why he put it on Twitter. He said he had still not received a response from the board and so is waiting “for the final answer around mid-September.”
Asked if he was still confident the charity would rescind the policy, he replied: “I hope, I hope. I can only keep hoping,” adding that the guidelines are “very clear” and they “also know the consequences if they don’t come into line.”
He said “withdrawing the Catholic name” of the charity will be one of those consequences if they do not adhere to this “very fundamental point about absolute respect of life,” Br. Stockman said. Waiting for their answer is now the “logical, formal next step,” he added.
He also wished to stress that although the hospitals were founded by the Congregation, they have their own organizational structure separate from the Congregation because the numbers of the brothers are “reducing very fast” and just three religious remain on the board of trustees.
Asked why action was not immediately taken to stop the policy once it came into force, Br. Stockman said he always tries to “keep dialogue open” with the charity and asked them to agree to four key points, one of which was that respect for life is absolute. He then enlisted the help of the Belgian bishops and two Vatican Congregations to make them comply. “We tried and hoped they would conform themselves,” he said.
Br. Stockman said the charity’s defiance and Van Rompuy’s tweet are evidence of an “evolution” in a decline in respect for the Vatican's authority. “Secularization is very strong in Belgium, political pressure is very high,” he said. “Euthanasia is a very hot topic,” he continued, saying that because of the Brothers of Charity case, parliament is discussing whether elderly people who are tired of life should also have the possibility for euthanasia.
Van Rompuy is said to be a close friend of the former Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, Cardinal Godfried Danneels. Although a highly controversial figure who two years ago admitted being part of a ‘mafia’ aimed at preventing Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger being elected pope, the cardinal spoke out strongly against euthanasia, according to the 2015 book, Godfried Danneels: Biografie.
Asked whether the current situation could be partly the fault of the Belgian hierarchy not effectively defending the Church’s teaching on this issue over several decades, Br. Stockman said he could not say. “I was not thinking in that direction, I cannot comment on that,” he said.
Van Rompuy was unavailable for comment.