Last August 9, I wrote on this blog about the Brothers of Charity community in Belgium being instructed by Pope Francis to stop practicing euthanasia in their healthcare facilities. Belgian law allows for euthanasia, and after a Catholic facility was sued for refusing to euthanize a patient, the community amended their policy to reflect Belgian law. Under the new policy, two patients have been euthanized. The bishops of Belgium have made it clear that such a policy cannot be tolerated in a Catholic institution. The superior general of the order, Br. Rene Stockman, who opposes the policy, instructed the Belgian Brothers to stop the practice. When they refused, he appealed to the Vatican. Over the summer, Pope Francis himself told the Brothers of Charity to stop the practice of euthanasia and gave them a month to re-amend their policy to reflect the dignity and sanctity of life.
Well, the Brothers of Charity in Belgium have refused to comply with Pope Francis’ demands. One of the members of the Board of Directors for their healthcare system, former Belgian Prime Minister Herman van Rompuy, wrote on Twitter that, “the time of ‘Roma locuta causa finita’ (Rome has spoken, the matter is closed) is long past.”
The Board of Directors of the Brothers of Charity healthcare system, made up of twelve lay persons and three brothers, have been called to Rome to explain themselves. The date of the “Catholic Herald” article is from a month ago, and the date of the “Catholic Online” article is from just over a week ago. I’ve not been able to find further updates. I’ll continue to post updates on this matter, and if anyone knows anything more I would appreciate the tip.
This development is especially disturbing. For centuries, the Church has fought to keep the authority of the secular State from interfering in the life of the Church. The State, however, continues to attempt to do so, often employing spurious justifications for such. Doubtless, the Belgian State will claim that they have the concerns and well-being of patients at heart, or that institutions, including Church-affiliated institutions, must comply with the law of the land, even when that law is in conflict with Church teaching and Church law. State law trumps Church teaching, they claim. This conflict manifests itself in any number of ways, even in the U. S. where we have the First Amendment protection against the State establishing religion or creating obstacles to the free exercise of religion.
So, history tells us that we can expect the State to try to impose itself on the Church. What is especially troubling about the Belgian case is that a Catholic institution is siding with the State in a conflict between the State and the Church on a matter of moral law. The Brothers of Charity in Belgium are basically saying, “We know what the Church teaches, and we know what the Holy Father demands of us. Even still, we are going to defy Church and Pontiff in our eagerness to align ourselves with Belgian law.” Another troubling development involves a position paper written by the Board of Directors, which claims that euthanasia is the “therapeutic liberty” of doctors, and that hospitals ought not interfere with this “therapy.” According to the Board of Directors, euthanasia is a right held by doctors. The argument is that it is the right of doctors to practice euthanasia. Now, I certainly recognize that patients have no right whatsoever to demand that healthcare provider accommodate their desire to be killed. But, the argument of the Board of Directors take the matter into an entirely different, and even more ominous, direction. If their argument is adopted, then doctors could freely practice euthanasia on patients irrespective of the patients rights or desires, because it is the doctor’s right to administer euthanasia. That means doctors killing patients without bothering to consider the desires of the patients. There is ample evidence that this is already happening. You can reference my August 3 post, “This Used To Be Called Murder”:
It simply cannot stand that a Catholic religious community can act in a way that is clearly contrary to Catholic teaching and in defiance of a direct order from the pope without consequence. If the Board of Directors and the Brothers of Charity in Belgium continue to defy Pope Francis and Catholic teaching and continue the practice of euthanasia at their healthcare facilities, then every legal and pastoral option needs to be considered, up to and including excommunication and the dissolution of their religious community. The Catholics of Belgium, the Brothers of Charity’s patients, and the entire Church, deserve nothing less.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.