Former Belgian PM challenges Pope Francis on euthanasia ban for religious hospitals

Former Belgian PM challenges Pope Francis on euthanasia ban for religious hospitals

Former Belgian PM challenges Pope Francis on euthanasia ban for religious hospitals

Pope Francis greets Brother Rene Stockman, superior general of the Brothers of Charity, at the end of a 2016 meeting of the Union of Superiors General at the Vatican. Pope Francis has given the Brothers of Charity, which runs 15 centers for psychiatric patients across Belgium, until the end of August to stop offering euthanasia to psychiatric patients. (Credit: CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano.)

Herman Van Rompuy, who has formerly served as the President of the European Council and Prime Minister of Belgium, has tweeted a message implying Pope Francis cannot tell a Belgian religious order to stop performing euthanasia at its medical clinics. Van Rompuy serves on the board of the Brothers of Charity Group.

ROME — With the clock ticking for the Brothers of Charity to comply with a Vatican request to stop offering euthanasia in their 15 centers for psychiatric patients across Belgium, the matter is far from resolved, with one of the members of the board openly challenging Pope Francis’s order on Twitter.

“The time of ‘Roma locuta causa finita’ is long past,” is what Herman Van Rompuy, former President of the European Council and a member of the board of trustees of the Brothers of Charity Group, said on Twitter.

The message, quoting the Latin phrase “Rome has spoken; the cause is finished” – a paraphrase of St. Augustine, which means the pope is the final word – came as a response to a post from canon law expert Kurt Martens.

The original message was in Dutch, the official language of Flanders, one of the regions of Belgium.

Van Rompuy is a Belgian and European politician, who also served as Prime Minister of Belgium as a member of the Christian Democratic and Flemish party.

Brother Rene Stockman, superior general of the order, told Crux that he has “no idea what was his intention in putting that on Twitter.” For this reason, he said, he couldn’t comment further on this matter.

Pope Francis gave his personal approval to a Vatican demand that the Brothers of Charity must reverse its euthanasia policy by the end of August. Stockman, based in Rome, has been vocal in his opposition to the policy from the beginning.

“Look, there are the arguments, we cannot accept that you’re changing the policy regarding euthanasia,” he told the group in Belgium.

Stockman also asked the country’s bishops to speak out on the issue, which they did, “in line with ours, which is logical of course because otherwise it would be against the Church.”

After the decision to change the policy was confirmed, he reached out to the Vatican, which had already been informed about the situation.

There are three brothers serving on the board of the Brothers of Charity Group, the organization that runs the psychiatric centers, but the eleven other members are laypeople.

The religious have been asked to sign a joint letter to their superior general declaring 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 until its natural end.”

RELATED: Pope tells Belgian Brothers of Charity no more euthanasia for patients

Those who refuse to sign will face sanctions under canon law, while the group can expect to face legal action and even being disaffiliated with the Church if it fails to change its policy.

The request, issued at the beginning of August, and which must be fulfilled by the end of the month, hasn’t yet been answered, according to Stockman.

“They have received my request, and they will reflect on it together, the brothers and the board of trustees,” he said. However, the general meeting of the board will be towards the end of September, so the response might be delayed.

Stockman said that his “only hope” is that the matter is resolved in accordance with the Vatican’s request, which would bring the Brothers of Charity of Belgium back in line with the doctrine of the Church, “that is also the mission of the Brothers: The absolute respect of life.”

According to Stockman, the Church’s doctrine on life is very clear: “I don’t think we can make compromises on that level.”

Presently, terminating a patient’s life is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. Helping a person kill themselves through assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, Germany, Japan, Canada, and in a handful of states in the United States.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is very clear on this issue, calling an act or omission which causes death in order to eliminate suffering a “murder, gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God.”

Paragraph 2277 of the Catechism also says that there’s no justification for putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick or dying persons. “The error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded.”

Looking at the growing number of countries accepting these practices, Stockman says that the Church cannot “make compromises” on the “absolute respect for life.”

“I think that the Church will continue to be a clear voice against a mentality that is growing in many countries about euthanasia and absolute self-determination, which is replacing the absolute respect for life,” he said.

This mentality, he continued, is growing worldwide, particularly in Western countries. However, “we as a Church have the duty to make very clear that we cannot make compromises on this.”

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