15 Belgian psychiatric hospitals associated with the Brothers of Charity are staying defiant after the Vatican stripped them of their ‘Catholic’ label over their practice of euthanasia.

– Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith comes to decision “with great sadness”

News broke May 4 of the decision of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to order the Brothers of Charity hospitals to cease identifying as Catholic after the facilities introduced assisted death for patients in 2017.

The CDF communicated “with deep sadness” March 30 that the “psychiatric hospitals managed by the Provincialate of the Brothers of Charity association in Belgium will no longer be able to consider themselves Catholic institutions”.

– “More than one Christian inspired vision is possible”

The ruling by the Church’s highest doctrinal body comes after three years of negotiations between Rome and the corporation running the hospitals on behalf of the order, which at the time the euthanasia policy was introduced had three religious brothers on its board of fifteen members.

The corporation had argued that its acts of assisted death in certain cases were “perfectly consistent” with Catholic doctrine, and had alleged a lack of dialogue around the practice on the part of Church authorities.

“When you forbid something, you only need one sentence. That puts a stop to every ethical consideration and to every conversation”, president of the governing board of the Brothers of Charity in Belgium, Raf De Rycke, said at the time the order introduced euthanasia in its clinics.

“We on the contrary want to enter in dialogue with the suffering person.

“According to us, that is a vision inspired by the Gospel. Jesus Christ also put the Sabbath and other rules aside in order to be near to the suffering person. More than one Christian inspired vision is possible”.

The Vatican, however, saw the issue differently, and demanded the Belgian Brothers of Charity and its hospitals board “affirm in writing and in an unequivocal way their adherence to the principles of the sacredness of human life and the unacceptability of euthanasia, and, as a consequence, the absolute refusal to carry it out in the institutions they depend on”.

The corporation “did not give assurance on these points”, the CDF concluded in his March 30 letter.

– “The Vatican’s letter concentrates on an ideological issue”

Commenting on the Vatican ruling, De Rycke said that while he had “every respect” for the CDF decision, “the Vatican’s letter concentrates on an ideological issue”.

“In ecclesiastical doctrine we only look at the action, while we rather look at the situation in context, ethically”, he explained.

“By the way, we do not allow euthanasia just like that, we weigh up all kinds of values.

“We differ in vision, and as a result our institutions have been retroactively deprived of the designation ‘Catholic’ since the end of March”, De Rycke admitted.

Along with lamenting the CDF ruling, the president of the board of the Brothers of Charity also decried the attitude of order superior general Br. René Stockman.

Stockman has insisted the hospital buildings belong to the order and the Church, and not the corporation, but De Rycke is warning that the board has no intention of renting or buying the buildings, arguing that there has been a de facto alientation of the properties over the years.

“It is a very, very painful situation, yes”, De Rycke decried.

“We are sorry that the Superior General in Rome should be aiming his arrows at us. Especially when you realise what the organisation has already meant for the community”, the board president continued.

“Also, [Stockman] is creating a dangerous precedent. Give me the name of only one hospital in our country where euthanasia is not yet available. Should we deprive them all of the adjective ‘Catholic’?”, De Rycke asked.

“It is a pity that a touchy and complex subject such as euthanasia should be misused in a wider and long-running conflict between the general head of the congregation and our region”.

More on Novena on the euthanasia debate in the Church:

Church goes to war over assisted suicide: Dutch cardinal contradicts Vatican official

Vatican archbishop encourages faithful to physically “accompany” dying by assisted suicide

Swiss Bishops instruct priests not to be physically present at moment of assisted suicide

91% of Dutch Catholics in favour of euthanasia


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.