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Belgian Brothers of Charity reject Vatican order to stop euthanizing patients

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Catholic News Service

Belgium’s Brothers of Charity Group, which runs 15 centers for psychiatric patients, has rejected a Vatican order to stop offering euthanasia.

In a Sept. 12 statement, the organization said it had not been given a chance to explain its “vision statement and argumentation.”

Activists take part in an anti-euthanasia protest Feb. 11, 2014, in Brussels. Assisted suicide and euthanasia were legalized in traditionally Catholic Belgium in 2002 A group of psychiatric care centers run by a Catholic religious order in Belgium is rejecting a Vatican order to stop euthanizing “nonterminal” mentally ill patients on its premises. (CNS photo/Julien Warnand, EPA)

It added that it “always took into account shifts and evolutions within society,” and “emphatically believed” its euthanasia program was consistent with the doctrine of the Catholic Church.

“In our facilities, we deal with patients’ requests for euthanasia for mental suffering in a nonterminal situation with the utmost caution,” said the organization, whose board members include Herman Van Rompuy, a former European Council president and former Belgian prime minister.

“We take unbearable and hopeless suffering and patients’ requests for euthanasia seriously. On the other hand, we want to protect life and ensure euthanasia is performed only if there is no more possibility of providing a reasonable treatment perspective to the patient,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, a Sept. 12 statement from Brother Rene Stockman, superior general of the Brothers of Charity in Rome, said he “deplores the fact that there is no willingness to negotiate” the text of the vision statement on the part of the Belgian organization.

“He does not understand that a board of directors does not want to take into account experts from the field that have expressed clear objections to the text,” the statement said.

An initial deadline of the end of August to settle the disagreement was delayed until Sept. 11, the statement explained, to allow further negotiations to take place.

But it said that the scheduled talks were “shot down” because Professor Rik Torfs, a former rector of Belgium’s Catholic University of Leuven called into mediate the dispute, “could no longer put his trust in the Brothers of Charity organization in Belgium.”

The statement said: “The superior general remains open to dialogue, provided that this dialogue is about the content of the vision text, and thus whether or not to apply euthanasia within the walls of the institutions of the Brothers of Charity, and not about a ‘modus vivendi’ (agreement allowing conflicting parties to coexist until a final settlement is reached).

“He will however resubmit the current situation to the competent authorities in the Vatican before taking further action,” it said.

The Belgian church’s Cathobel news agency said Sept. 12 the Brothers of Charity Group lay chairman, Raf De Rycke, a former economics professor, had agreed euthanasia requests would now be examined “with greater circumspection than previously,” but conceded that the order’s hospitals were not yet ready to accept more restrictive guidelines.

The agency added that at least three organization members had not declared their attitude to the Sept. 12 announcement, despite “claims of unanimity.”

In August, Brother Rene Stockman told Catholic News Service that Pope Francis gave his personal approval to a Vatican demand that the Brothers of Charity reverse its policy by the end of August. He said brothers who serve on the board of the Brothers of Charity Group must each 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 till its natural end.”

Brother Stockman told CNS that if the group refused to bow to the ultimatum, “then we will take juridical steps in order to force them to amend the text (of the new policy) and, if that is not possible, then we have to start the procedure to exclude the hospitals from the Brothers of Charity family and take away their Catholic identity.”

He said if any of the brothers refused to sign the letter upholding Catholic teaching against euthanasia, “then also we will start the correct procedure foreseen in canon law.”

Geert Lesarge, press secretary of the Brussels-based Belgian bishops’ conference, criticized the decision and reiterated support for the Vatican Sept. 13.

He told Catholic News Service that attempts by Torfs to mediate the dispute had failed. He said church leaders were ready to debate “matters of principle,” but not “medical practices at specific hospitals.”

Assisted suicide and euthanasia were legalized in traditionally Catholic Belgium in 2002, a year after the neighboring Netherlands, and euthanasia deaths are increasing by 27 percent annually, according to Health Ministry data.

At least a dozen patients in the Brothers of Charity care are believed to have requested euthanasia over the past year, with two transferred elsewhere to receive deadly injections.

The Brothers of Charity Group is considered the most important provider of mental health care services in the Flanders region of Belgium, where they serve 5,000 patients a year.

Besides Belgium and the Netherlands, euthanasia and assisted suicide are also legal in Luxembourg and deemed “nonpunishable” in Switzerland. Poll data suggest most Europeans favor euthanasia laws if backed with safeguards.

     Contributing to this story was Simon Caldwell in Manchester, England.

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Pope tells Belgian religious order to stop offering euthanasia to patients

By

Catholic News Service

Pope Francis has given a Belgian religious order until the end of August to stop offering euthanasia to psychiatric patients.

Activists take part in an anti-euthanasia protest in 2014, in Brussels. Pope Francis has ordered the Brothers of Charity, who run psychiatric care centers in Belgium, to stop offering euthanasia to their patients. (CNS photo/Julien Warnand, EPA)

Activists take part in an anti-euthanasia protest in 2014, in Brussels. Pope Francis has ordered the Brothers of Charity, who run psychiatric care centers in Belgium, to stop offering euthanasia to their patients. (CNS photo/Julien Warnand, EPA)

Brother Rene Stockman, superior general of the order, said the pope gave his personal approval to a Vatican demand that the Brothers of Charity, which runs 15 centers for psychiatric patients across Belgium, must reverse its policy by the end of August.

Brothers who serve on the board of the Brothers of Charity Group, the organization that runs the centers, also must each 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 till its natural end.”

Brothers who refuse to sign will face sanctions under canon law, while the group can expect to face legal action and even expulsion from the church if it fails to change its policy.

The group, he added, must no longer consider euthanasia as a solution to human suffering under any circumstances.

The order, issued at the beginning of August, follows repeated requests for the group to drop its new policy of permitting doctors to perform the euthanasia of “nonterminal” mentally ill patients on its premises.

It also follows a joint investigation by the Vatican’s congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith and for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

Brother Stockman, who had opposed the group’s euthanasia policy, said the ultimatum was devised by the two congregations and has the support of the pope.

“The Holy Father was formally informed about it and was also informed about the steps to be taken,” he said in an Aug. 8 email.

The ultimatum, he said, meant the group’s policies must be underpinned by a belief that “repect for human life is absolute.”

Brother Stockman said that if the group refused to bow to the ultimatum “then we will take juridical steps in order to force them to amend the text (of the new policy) and, if that is not possible, then we have to start the procedure to exclude the hospitals from the Brothers of Charity family and take away their Catholic identity.”

He said if any of the brothers refused to sign the letter upholding Catholic teaching against euthanasia, “then also we will start the correct procedure foreseen in canon law.”

The Belgian bishops and the nuncio to Belgium have been informed about the ultimatum, he added.

Brother Stockman, a psychiatric care specialist, had turned to the Vatican in the spring after the Brothers of Charity group rejected a formal request from him to reverse the new policy.

The group also snubbed the Belgian bishops by formally implementing its euthanasia policy in June, just weeks after the bishops declared they would not accept euthanasia in Catholic institutions.

The group has also ignored a statement of church teaching forbidding euthanasia. The statement, written and signed by Cardinal Gerhard Muller, former head of the doctrinal congregation, was sent to the Brothers of Charity Group members. A copy of the document has been obtained Catholic News Service.

Father Peter Joseph Triest, whose cause for beatification was opened in 2001, founded the Brothers of Charity in Ghent, Belgium, in 1807. Their charism is to serve the elderly and mentally ill.

Today, the group is considered the most important provider of mental health care services in the Flanders region of Belgium, where they serve 5,000 patients a year.

About 12 psychiatric patients in the care of the Brothers are believed to have asked for euthanasia over the past year, with two transferred elsewhere to receive the injections to end their lives.

The group first announced its euthanasia policy in March, saying it wished to harmonize the practices of the centers with the Belgian law on euthanasia passed in 2003, the year after the Netherlands became the first country to permit the practice since Nazi Germany.

Technically, euthanasia in Belgium remains an offense, with the law protecting doctors from prosecution only if they abide by specific criteria, but increasingly lethal injections are given to the disabled and mentally ill. Since 2014 “emancipated children” have also qualified for euthanasia.

The group’s change in policy came about a year after a private Catholic rest home in Diest, Belgium, was fined $6,600 for refusing the euthanasia of a 74-year-old woman suffering from lung cancer.

Catholic News Service has approached the Brothers of Charity Group for a comment.

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Brussels archbishop thanks Christians for support

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Catholic News Service

The Brussels archbishop thanked Christians for gestures of support in the wake of bomb attacks in his city and urged Belgians not to react by stoking anti-foreigner feeling.

A man places flowers on a street memorial March 23 following bomb attacks in Brussels. Three nearly simultaneous attacks March 22 claimed the lives of dozens and injured more than 200. (CNS photo/Francois Lenoir, Reuters)

A man places flowers on a street memorial March 23 following bomb attacks in Brussels. Three nearly simultaneous attacks March 22 claimed the lives of dozens and injured more than 200. (CNS photo/Francois Lenoir, Reuters) 

“The messages we’ve received from everywhere — from the pope and bishops worldwide — are very important as signs of fraternity, which let us feel how we are united in faith and in humanity,” said Archbishop Josef De Kesel of Mechelen-Brussels, president of the Belgian bishops’ conference.

“We must stay faithful to our message of peace and go on promoting a discourse which appeals for acceptance, brotherhood and coexistence. This type of attack shows how anyone can be affected and the great danger that fear will appear everywhere. There’s a temptation to react by turning against migrants and refugees, who’ll become victims once again.”

The archbishop spoke to France’s Catholic La Croix daily after the March 22 terrorist attacks, which left at least 34 dead at Zaventem airport and the city’s Maelbeek metro station. The Belgian government announced three days of national mourning after attacks, for which the Islamic State group claimed credit.

In the March 23 La Croix interview, Archbishop De Kesel said Brussels remained in shock from the attacks, which paralyzed communication links throughout the city.

However, he added that Catholic clergy had been “visibly there for the victims,” and said the church’s airport chaplain, Father Michel Gaillard, had been “aiding and accompanying” families of victims since the explosions.

Among those sending messages of support and prayers to Archbishop De Kesel were Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He said the news of the attacks, just before Good Friday, “deepens our own meditation on the cross.”

“Of course, the terror of the Crucifixion is overcome by the hope of the Resurrection,” he added. “Through unity, courage and comforting of the victims, the people of Belgium remind me of the apostles comforted by the risen Lord. In the face of unspeakable violence, they refused to allow fear to be their final witness.”

During his general audience at the Vatican March 23, Pope Francis prayed and asked people “to unite in the unanimous condemnation of these cruel abominations that have caused only death, terror and horror.”

Jesuit Father Tommy Scholtes, spokesman for the Belgian bishops, said Christians planned an ecumenical prayer service March 23 and said he hoped Easter Masses would continue as planned at city churches.

“We hope people will rise up and recover from these events, and life (will) return to normal in a few days,” he told Catholic News Service. “But for now, the airport and many train stations are closed and movement is disrupted while the security forces seek those behind these attacks, so it’s hard to predict how long this will take.”

Traditional Holy Week chrism Masses were cancelled March 22 in several churches, and the Belgian bishops urged Catholics to observe a period of silence for the victims as church bells were rung at midday March 23.

In Havana March 22, U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro joined the overflow crowd in Estadio Latinoamericano for a moment of silence for victims of the bombings before an exhibition baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team.

Ukrainian Catholic Bishop Borys Gudziak of Paris, whose diocese includes Belgium, said the attacks were an effort to cripple Europe’s openness to others.

“By assailing Europeans and assaulting hospitable and open Europe, terrorists seek to push the continent into throes of fear,” he said. “Why? Because fear is a great manipulator, a wicked tool of control. Brussels is the nerve center for united Europe whose countries witnessed the horrors of the World War II and decided to eliminate war between neighbors: to rid themselves of fear of the other, to open hearts and demilitarize borders. This openness is a great grace and gift of Europe to the world.”

The Brussels-based Pax Christi International expressed shock at the violence and said it stood in solidarity with the victims and their families.

“Witnessing again the tragedy of the human capacity to destroy life and to violate human dignity, we reaffirm our commitment to be guided, not by the fear and hatred that are the seeds of terror and war, but by love and nonviolence,” the worldwide Catholic peace organization said in a statement released hours after the bombings.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia described each life lost as a “precious gift from God that has been torn from all those whom it touched.” He called upon the archdiocese to pray for the victims of the bombings as well as those who are mourning “as a result of this act of evil.”

“As we commemorate the passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ this Holy Week, let us remember that God is the source of love and life and ask him to bring peace to our troubled world,” he said.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States, also offered its solidarity to Belgians and sent condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims.

“Such heinous attacks are antithetical to the ideals of civilized society,” the council said in a statement.

The Belgian Muslim Executive said it was appealing “in the name of all citizens of the Muslim faith” for “unity and togetherness in a front against all forms of violence and terrorism.”

It added that Belgian Muslims reaffirmed “their deep attachment to democratic values,” supported efforts by the “forces of order,” and backed the “public authorities charged with guaranteeing the country’s security and social cohesion.”

Archbishop De Kesel said people must recognize that radicalized groups “are an extremely small minority.”

“This act is of such a level that it surpasses any religious question; it is only intended to spread terror, and this is why we must avoid being turned against Islam by it. Yes, Islam is there, and Muslims form part of our city. But they could do nothing about what’s happened and should not be made victims a second time.”

Contributing to this story was Dennis Sadowski in Washington.

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Viewpoint: Opting out of the Belgian euthanasia solution

January 2nd, 2014 Posted in Uncategorized Tags: , ,

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Recently, Belgium’s Senate voted overwhelmingly to extend legal euthanasia to children of any age. The proposal, which will likely become law, limits the practice to children who are terminally ill, suffering great pain and have their parents’ permission.

In theory, they must also understand what they are asking for (if that is even possible for, say, a 10-year-old). Read more »

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Belgian bishops pledge to pay damages to abuse victims

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Catholic News Service

OXFORD, England — Belgium’s Catholic bishops have pledged a “culture of vigilance” against future sexual abuse by priests and said guilty clergy must compensate their victims even if their crimes are no longer punishable by law.

“We cannot repair the past, but we can take moral responsibility by recognizing sufferings and helping victims recover,” Bishop Guy Harpigny of Torunai and Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp, the church’s delegates for abuse, told a Brussels news conference Jan. 12.

Read more »

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