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Abbot Peter Novecosky, OSB


Abbot Peter Novecosky

A lesson to be learned

Recent developments in Belgium on euthanizing psychiatric patients are disturbing.

The Belgium Brothers of Charity Group has rejected a Vatican demand to stop offering euthanasia for psychiatric patients. The organization argues it has not been given a chance to explain its vision statement. It also argues it is taking into account “shifts and evolutions within society.” It believes its euthanasia program is consistent with Catholic Church doctrine.

Pope Francis disagrees. The Belgium bishops disagree. Brother Rene Stockman, superior general of the Brothers of Charity, also disagrees.

He said brothers who serve on the board of the Brothers of Charity Group must each sign a joint letter declaring 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.”

The Brothers of Charity Group is the most important provider of mental health care services in the Flanders region of Belgium, where they serve 5,000 patients a year. At least a dozen patients are believed to have requested euthanasia over the past year, with two transferred elsewhere to receive deadly injections.

Many religious congregations are turning over their apostolates to lay leadership. They try to choose reliable and responsible men and women to carry on their mission. The Brothers of Charity in Belgium have also chosen qualified members for their board. They include a former European Council president and Belgian prime minister.

The Belgian experience is a concern not only for those who oppose euthanasia. It is also a concern for religious congregations who are entrusting lay members with their apostolates — whether in health, education or other pastoral works. This is an unfortunate precedent.

Ecumenical alignments

There is increasing ecumenical activity between Catholics and Lutherans as the 500th anniversary of the Reformation approaches in late October.

Pope Francis kicked it off with his Oct. 31 visit to Lund, Sweden last year.

At a Sept. 15 conference at Georgetown University in Washington, Lutheran and Catholic speakers explored recent developments.

Kathryn Johnson, director of ecumenical and inter-religious relations for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), noted that a “Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry and Eucharist” was approved by 99 per cent of the delegates at last year’s ELCA assembly. Meanwhile, the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs unanimously affirmed the document’s 32 “agreements” — consensus statements that Catholics and Lutherans have said are not church-dividing differences.

Johnson pointed out that the 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, which “changed the teaching of each church,” was an ecumenical watershed moment. The declaration stated that Christians are redeemed by “grace alone . . . while calling and equipping us to do good works.” It has since been affirmed at least in part by the World Methodist Council, the Anglican Communion and the World Communion of Reformed Churches.

While agreements are being reached on the theological level on this key Reformation doctrine, people in the pews are also showing their approval.

A Pew Research Center survey released Aug. 31 revealed that more Protestants believe salvation comes through a mix of faith and good works (52 per cent) — the traditionally Catholic position — than through “faith alone” (46 per cent). That belief — sola fide in Latin — was one of five solas that form the backbone of Protestant Reformers’ beliefs.

The same share of Protestants also reported they believe Christians should look to the Bible, church teachings and tradition for guidance — the Catholic position — rather than the “Bible alone,” or the Protestant belief in sola scriptura.

It’s unfortunate it’s taken 500 years to change our perception. The words of Jean Houston seem apropos: “Change the story and you change perception; change perception and you change the world.”