Vatican Investigates Euthanasia in Belgian Catholic Hospitals

by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  •  May 8, 2017   

Secretary of State launches investigation after superior general issues formal complaint

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BRUSSELS ( - The Vatican's Secretary of State is investigating the decision to allow euthanasia in 15 of Belgian's psychiatric hospitals run by an international religious congregation, the Brothers of Charity.

The investigation was launched after the general superior of the order, Réné Stockman, lodged a formal complaint with the Vatican protesting his community's tolerance of the sinful practice. He chose to involve the Vatican after the Brothers of Charity rejected his formal request to reverse their decision allowing euthanasia at their 15 mental institutions.

In an email Thursday, Stockman announced that Cdl. Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, was personally investigating the matter. "Because it is a matter of the Belgian group, I informed the Belgian bishops' conference in order to ask for their opinion and to ask a clear statement of them," said Stockman. "At the same time, I am in contact with the Vatican – the Congregation (for Institutes) of Consecrated Life (and Societies of Apostolic Life) and the secretary of state who asked me for more information."

The recent affair came to light on April 25 when the Brothers of Charity posted on their website the decision by their board of directors to begin allowing euthanasia within their institutions in Belgium. The religious order is an international congregation with a presence in 30 countries. The community's general superior, Stockman, who is also a psychiatric care specialist, is stationed in Rome.

Upon hearing of his community's decision to offer euthanasia for their mental patients Stockman first informed them that their decision could not be tolerated by the Church. "[W]e informed the whole congregation that as superior general we cannot accept this decision because it is going totally against our charism of the charity." He also made it known at that time that he was involved in talks with the Vatican's secretary of state, Cdl. Parolin. At that time, the Belgian bishops' conference was also informed of the affair and asked to assist Stockman in resolving the situation.

The community, Stockman relates, has turned a deaf ear to his directive that they reconsider their decision to offer euthanasia within their Catholic run mental institutions. So now the Vatican is getting involved. In the same communication Thursday, Stockman remarked, "I hope that there will come a clear answer from the Belgian bishops and the Vatican. I have trust in it."

The Belgian province of the Brothers of Charity provides some 5,000 beds within their 15 mental hospitals. If his order's Catholic-run hospitals can't avoid Belgium's pro-euthanasia laws then they'll have to get out of the business says Stockman:

I wait for the clear answer of the Church and that answer will be presented to our organization, in the hope that it will adapt its vision ... I hope we will not have to withdraw our responsibility in the field of mental health care in the place where we started as a congregation with such care more than 200 years ago.

The general superior was referring to the founding of the Brothers of Charity, which took place in Belgium back in 1807. The order was originally known as the Hospital Brothers of St. Vincent before it spread around the globe.

Last year, a private Catholic rest home in Diest, Belgium, was fined $6,600 after being sued for refusing to euthanize a 74-year-old woman suffering from lung cancer.


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