International News

Pope Gives Ultimatum to Order That Permits Euthanasia

By Simon Caldwell

MANCHESTER, England (CNS) – Pope Francis has given a Belgian religious order until the end of August to stop offering euthanasia to psychiatric patients.

Brother Rene Stockman, superior general of the order, told Catholic News Service 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.

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

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.”

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 also ignored a statement of Church teaching forbidding euthanasia, that was signed by Cardinal Gerhard Muller, the former head of the doctrinal congregation.

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