Rome (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pope Francis is backing an ultimatum requiring a Belgian religious order to disallow euthanasia at their mental hospitals this month or face canonical sanctions.
The ultimatum, promulgated last week by two dicasteries in Rome and personally approved by the Holy Father, demands the Brothers of Charity reverse their pro-euthanasia policy at their 15 psychiatric hospitals in Belgium and sign a statement professing adherence to Church teaching regarding end-of-life issues.
The superior general of the community, Br. Rene Stockman, who sought the mandate from Rome to correct his defiant group, said ignoring the directive would result in the order being stripped of its hospitals. In a statement August 8, Stockman related, "Then we have to start the procedure to exclude the hospitals from the Brothers of Charity family and take away their Catholic identity."
The reason for the tough stance by Stockman and the Vatican is because the Brothers of Charity, an international religious congregation with a global presence in 30 countries, has resisted all forms of correction since they published their pro-euthanasia policy in March. The group's policy that's now enacted in their 15 psychiatric hospitals in Belgium reads, "We take seriously unbearable and hopeless suffering and patients' request for euthanasia. ... we do want to protect lives and ensure that euthanasia is performed only if there is no more possibility to provide a reasonable perspective to treat the patient."
At that time Br. Stockman, a psychiatric care specialist, tried to admonish them. "We deplore this new vision," he said, "The line between Rome and the Brothers of Charity in Belgium has been disrupted." For their part, the community ignored Stockman's corrections.
Stockman then went to work on several levels to reverse the stated policy, contacting the Belgian bishops' conference and the president of the conference, Cdl. Jozef De Kesel. Stockman also informed the apostolic nuncio to Belgium, Abp. Augustine Kasujja, of his intention to resist the board members' decision to allow euthanasia at the communities' hospitals. He also spoke with the Vatican's secretary of state, Cdl. Pietro Parolin, who launched an investigation.
The defiant order even rejected a formal correction from the Catholic bishops of Belgium. A statement issued in May by the Belgian bishops' conference affirmed, "We cannot accept that euthanasia is practiced on psychiatric patients." After this, Cdl. Gerhard Müller, then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) sent a personally drafted summation of Church teaching forbidding euthanasia to the Belgian province of the Brothers of Charity but to no avail.
After a joint investigation was subsequently conducted by the CDF and the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, the two dicasteries then sent the above mentioned ultimatum to the religious order this month. Stockman said in his statement August 8 that the Roman Pontiff personally approved the mandate. "The Holy Father was formally informed about it and was also informed about the steps to be taken," he said.
In addition to repeating the demand for the group to scrap its pro-euthanasia policy employed at their psychiatric hospitals, each brother must also sign a joint letter, informing Stockman, their general superior, that they "fully support the vision of the magisterium of the Catholic Church, which has always confirmed that human life must be respected and protected in absolute terms, from the moment of conception till its natural end." This means, he said, the group must cease considering euthanasia as a solution to human suffering under any and all circumstances.
Stockman said if the group refuses to sign the letter upholding Church teaching or change their policy "then also we will start the correct procedure foreseen in canon law." This may even include expulsion from the Church warned Stockman.