March 3, 2024

Vatican strips Belgian group of ‘Catholic’ label over euthanasia

Hospitals run by the Brothers of Charity are no longer Catholic

The Vatican has put its foot down on a Belgian Catholic group over euthanasia and has declared that it can no longer be considered “Catholic”.

The Brothers of Charity, a religious congregation founded in the 19th century, runs 15 highly-respected psychiatric hospitals. In 2017, the board of the organization’s hospitals, which was composed on 12 lay people, including former Christian Democrat Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy, along with three brothers of the congregation, decided to permit doctors to practice euthanasia in the hospitals.

The Catholic Church strictly forbids euthanasia. However, the board refused to buckle under pressure from the Church to manage the hospitals with a Catholic spirit.

“In spite of the three years of dialogue, the vision of those in charge of the organisation has unfortunately remained unchanged”, laments Brother René Stockman, Superior General of the Brothers of Charity in Rome. “It is contrary to the doctrine of the Church.”

The Vatican highlighted four points of disagreement. First, the Brothers of Charity would not give assurances that life must be “always respected”. Second, they accepted Belgian legislation “which opens up the possibility of recourse to euthanasia for psychiatric patients without being terminally ill”. Third, they were happy to allow doctors to practice euthanasia without consulting hospital authorities. And fourth, they were determined to allow euthanasia to happen in the hospital itself.

This was a painful decision for Brother Stockman, since these hospitals are the origin of the congregation. The congregation was the first to care for psychiatric patients in Belgium — as early as 1815. 

Stripping the hospitals of their “Catholic” label will lead to a dispute over the “Brothers of Charity” as a business name as well as ownership of the assets. The president of the Belgian group, Raf De Rycke, has told the media that he wants to continue to work with the same name, mission and vision.

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge 

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