The Belgian organization of the Brothers of Charity has been preached by the Vatican, which has deprived it of the right to present itself as “Catholic”, and intends to continue to carry out euthanasia in its psychiatric hospitals.
“We do not see the need to adjust our operations on a practical level (…) because we are convinced that we are acting correctly”, affirms, in a press release, this association which manages, in Belgium, the works of the religious congregation of Brothers of Charity.
→ READ. In Belgium, the works of the Brothers of Charity will no longer be “Catholic”
In 2017, she had indeed decided to admit euthanasia for her psychiatric patients, justifying her decision by the desire to comply with Belgian law after a Flemish Catholic retirement home was forced to pay a fine for refusing euthanasia to a 74-year-old patient with lung cancer.
“We think we act with maximum respect for life”
According to Mattias Devriendt, head of communications for the association, the 20-odd euthanasia practiced since then in their 12 psychiatric hospitals (1) nevertheless testifies to “a vision more strict than that indicated by Belgian law, very flexible “
But it is obviously already too much in the eyes of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which recalled “the moral unacceptability of euthanasia” and “the impossibility of introducing this practice in Catholic hospitals”.
For Raf De Rycke, president of the Brothers of Charity association, this is a ” point of view ” which can evolve over time and take better account of the context. “On this complex issue, we believe we act with maximum respect for life, he explains to The cross. We remain convinced that our vision of euthanasia has a pastoral content which is fully in line with Christian personalism. “
“It’s euthanasia that it’s about”
He also believes that Brother René Stockman, superior general of the Brothers of Charity, who sits in Rome, would use the pretext of euthanasia to settle his accounts with the Belgian branch of his congregation, of which he was provincial from 1994 to 2000, after being responsible for his mental hospitals.
In doing so, said Raf De Rycke, the superior general would be acting in violation of the principle of subsidiarity when the Belgian religious members of the association’s board of directors had approved the orientation text allowing euthanasia.
An accusation rejected by Brother Stockman, of which Raf De Rycke was the assistant in the 1990s before succeeding him as head of psychiatric care for the organization. “It’s euthanasia it’s all about, he corrects. It is this subject which, for three years, has been at the heart of the meetings that we have had with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Secretary of State. “
“You can’t touch life”
He also recalls that, in 2018, the general chapter which re-elected him for a fourth term as head of the Brothers of Charity had “clearly confirmed that one cannot touch life”. “This is not my personal vision but that of the whole chapter”, he insisted, while recognizing that all religious may not agree.
In October 2018, following this chapter, he had not renewed the terms of directors of two religious who had approved the organization’s decision to practice euthanasia. Which makes the organization say that it would not have the support of the Belgian province. “In religious life, a province cannot say that the decisions of a general chapter are not for it”, nevertheless recalls the religious.
In this story, it is not impossible that the will to settle scores is hidden with a figure labeled as “conservative” after having engaged in the Belgian debate on euthanasia, especially when it was a question of open this possibility to psychiatric patients, of whom Brother Stockman is a recognized specialist.
A very secularized Flemish Catholicism
“We cannot exclude the will to attack a personality opposed to what is seen, by large swathes of a liberal and very secularized Flemish Catholicism, as a normal evolution of society”, says an observer of Belgian Catholicism.
Not imagining this drift of Flemish Catholicism at the time of forming the association to which they entrusted their works, the Brothers of Charity were undoubtedly careless in not foreseeing that the decision could one day escape them.
The decisions are now taken within a board of directors where they are a minority, they know today that they will have to give up works yet at the heart of the action of the congregation from its foundation in the early nineteenth century in Ghent. Works that also enabled the Belgian province to finance numerous solidarity projects around the world.
The battle will move on the judicial front
Raf De Ryke said the superior general feared that this important source of funding for the work of his congregation around the world would disappear. Except that solidarity within an international religious congregation cannot be limited by secular borders.
Theological and moral, the battle is therefore likely to move on the legal front, and in particular on the key question of the ownership of psychiatric hospitals.
For Brother Stockman, these are the property of another association under Belgian law still controlled by the religious and separate from the organization now breaking with the congregation. For Raf De Rycke, the situation is more complex, the goods belonging to the Belgian region of the Brothers of Charity which makes them available to the organization thanks to long-term leases which are difficult to question.
“Brothers of Charity”: “a name we have the right to use”
“We are currently consulting lawyers. A solution through open and constructive dialogue seems difficult to me, even if we will make every effort possible “, he said, recalling that “Belgian civil law must prevail over Church law”.
He also said that there was no question of questioning the name of the organization Brothers of Charity, which was a source of confusion with the eponymous religious congregation. “We explicitly chose to keep it last year, he explains. It is a known name in Belgium that we believe we have the right to use. “