Brothers of Charity stripped of Catholic status over euthanasia

The Vatican has stripped 15 of the Belgian Brothers of Charity psychiatric institutions of their Catholic status because euthanasia was permitted on their premises.

Brother Rene Stockman, superior general of the Brothers of Charity, says the brothers had “no choice but to remain faithful” to their “charism of charity, which cannot be reconciled with the practice of euthanasia on psychiatric patients.”

The Vatican’s decision to remove the psychiatric institutions of their Catholic status was made after the Brothers of Charity board decided to allow euthanasia for its patients, which is legal in Belgium.

“The loss of Catholic identity for our psychiatric centers in Belgium is a painful situation for the congregation (of the brothers),” Stockman said. “With a heavy heart, the congregation has to let go of its psychiatric centers in Belgium.”

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith says the Provincial Association of the Brothers of Charity’s pro-euthanasia position is incompatible with church teaching on the inviolability of human life.

The Association refused to reverse its policy on euthanasia, so the Congregation was left with “no choice” but to order the homes to cease to identify as Catholic institutions.

The Brothers of Charity were informed of the Vatican decision in a letter co-signed by the Congregation’s prefect, Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer and Archbishop Giacomo Morandi.

The letter stresses the decision was the result of “the total refusal” to follow church teaching.

In March 2017, the association announced it would harmonize practice with the 2003 Belgian law on euthanasia. This law permits the killings of patients with “unbearable” psychiatric conditions.

The policy conflicts with the Brothers’ public position on euthanasia, as well as that of the Belgian bishops.

The Association was asked to change it but it refused.

In June 2017 Stockman appealed to the Vatican to intervene to reverse the association policy, and the Vatican opened an investigation.

“Numerous meetings” between the parties and the Vatican between June 2017 to July 2019. The Vatican cited the teachings of St. John Paul II and Pope Francis in particular, making it clear that the church considers euthanasia to be an “inadmissible act.”

The letter said the Vatican asked for written assurances that the Association accepted the “unacceptability of euthanasia.”

The Association consistently and publicly rejected appeals to conform to the wishes of the brothers and the Vatican.

It ignored a motion passed by the general chapter of the brothers in July 2018 upholding the “sacredness and the absolute respect of all human life, from conception to natural death” .

This motion required “every brother, associate member, and others associated with the mission of the congregation to adhere to the doctrine of the Catholic Church on ethical issues.”

The letter to the brothers said apostolic visitor Auxiliary Bishop Johannes Hendriks of Haarlem-Amsterdam also failed to register any progress with the association.

The Brothers of Charity is considered the most important provider of mental health care services in the Flanders region of Belgium, serving 5,000 patients a year.


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