Defying Vatican, Belgian Religious Brothers to Continue to Offer Euthanasia

In a Sept. 12 statement, the board defied the Vatican request.

(photo: Unsplash/CNA)

BRUSSELS — The board of the Belgian Brothers of Charity announced Tuesday it will continue offering euthanasia to patients in their psychiatric centers, despite being ordered by the Vatican to stop doing so.

The “Broeders van Liefde” board had been given until the end of August to comply with the Vatican order, which was seen and approved by Pope Francis. Brothers of the order were also asked to sign a joint letter to their general superior, Brother René Stockman, confirming their adherence to Church teaching.

In a Sept. 12 statement, the organization defied the Vatican request and said it “continues to stand by its vision statement on euthanasia for mental suffering in a non-terminal situation.”

Furthermore, it claims that in adhering to this vision, the organization “is still consistent with the doctrine of the Catholic Church. We emphatically believe so.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in Paragraph 2277, states: “Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable.”

The Brothers of Charity in Belgium run 15 psychiatric hospitals with 5,000 patients. The board controlling these institutions, which consists of a few brothers, but primarily of lay members, announced in the spring that they would permit euthanasia in their facilities.

The board argued in their recent statement that their position “always takes into account the shifts and evolutions within society,” while also considering “recognition of the exceptional, proportional view of ethics, deontological view and ideologization, and choice of conscience.”

This view is not shared by the general superior of the order, Brother René, who initially went to the Vatican for help in the spring when the board announced that it would start permitting euthanasia within the order’s facilities.

Previously, since the year 2000, the group had maintained a firm policy against euthanasia and how to cope with requests for it. Brother René explained to CNA in August that the group would take requests for euthanasia seriously and try to help the patients regain their desire for life, “knowing of course that someone who is very depressive can have the tendency to ask for euthanasia.”

After doing everything possible to help alleviate any depression present in a patient, if the individual still requests euthanasia — which is legal in Belgium — the brothers would transfer them elsewhere.

Brother René added at the time that Belgium is a country in which secularization is very strong and euthanasia is legal and widely accepted, even among children, making the fight against it all the more difficult.

It is expected that the Vatican will respond to the order’s latest statement. As to the potential punitive measures Pope Francis might ponder, professor Kurt Martens, a Belgian Catholic who teaches canon law at The Catholic University of America, told CNA Deutsch in an email interview Aug. 14: “The brothers who are members of the board face dismissal from their institute — thus will no longer be brothers and members of the institute — and the health care institutions would forfeit their right to call themselves ‘Catholic.’”

Dr. John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America, discusses religious freedom at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 16, 2013.

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Catholic University of America’s president has announced he is stepping down at the end of the school year. John Garvey’s time at the university has widely been recognized as a period of strengthening Catholic identity and shoring up the academic offerings in the Catholic intellectual and cultural tradition. His work has paid off: student retention has increased and fundraising goals have been topped at record levels. President John Garvey joins us today to tell his story about not only about building up a university but about falling in love with Catholic U.