12 May 2020, The Tablet

'Catholic' label removed from hospitals that allow euthanasia

by Tom Heneghan , in Paris

'Catholic' label removed from hospitals that allow euthanasia

The funeral service for paralympic athlete Marieke Vervoort who died in 2019 at the age of 40, in Diest, Belgium. A paralympic champion, Vervoort suffered from a progressive muscular disease Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. She chose the end her life through euthanasia.
Yorick Jansens/Zuma Press/PA Images

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has told the Brothers of Charity order that its 12 psychiatric hospitals in Belgium can no longer officially call themselves Catholic because they allow euthanasia. 

CDF Prefect Cardinal Luis Ladaria, the CDF prefect gave the Vatican's decision in a 30 March letter to Brother René Stockman, the order's Rome-based superior general. The Belgian bishops conference announced the news on 7 May after the nuncio there informed them of the letter.  

The CDF letter said the order's hospitals did not defend human life and reject euthanasia as morally unacceptable despite seven meetings between them and Vatican and mediation efforts by Auxiliary Bishop Johannes Hendriks of Haarlem-Amsterdam in the Netherlands, which like Belgium legalised euthanasia in 2002.

"The psychiatric hospitals managed by the Brothers of Charity in Belgium can no longer be considered as Catholic entities," it stated. The order’s other activities there can continue as before.

Stockman said the few brothers left in the mostly lay leadership of the hospitals would probably have to leave their posts. There was also the complicated issue of dividing the property of the order, which has been caring for psychiatric patients in Belgium since 1815.

The Belgian bishops called the situation "painful and extremely complex" and thanked the Brothers for their aid to the ill, especially during the current pandemic.

The Rome-based order and its Belgian province have been at odds since 2017 when the province’s directors declared they would allow euthanasia in certain cases out of respect for patients’ autonomy. 

Stockman, himself a Belgian and a former head of the order’s hospitals there, objected to  the board of directors but they insisted their stand was compatible with Catholic teaching.

With 12 psychiatric hospitals and other services, the Brothers of Charity are an important element in the Belgian health system with influential lay supporters, including some leading politicians who defended it in this debate. 

The hospitals could continue operating even if they lost their Catholic connection.



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