Times have changed. Once, no country in the world was more devoutly Catholic than Belgium.
This winter, however, the Belgian parliament passed a bill that would allow children — minors — to ask that they be euthanized. Granted, the bill has restrictions. Parents must consent. Medical advice must be procured.
All this being admitted, if history is an indication, Belgium well may be going farther down a slippery slope with regard to acknowledging the sanctity of life in many ways. For some while, Belgian law now permits abortion and euthanasia, although until now, euthanasia was an option available only to adults.
The Belgian Catholic hierarchy was outspoken, and constantly so, in opposing this legislation. No one could claim that the Church’s view was vague or unknown.
Not long ago, some grumbled that the Catholic bishops pulled all the strings in Belgium. By adopting the measure with a vote 2-to-1 in the lower house, the majority of Belgian politicians showed that they did not care what the bishops said.
Ultimately, however, it is about the Belgian people, not just the politicians. Belgium’s political system is thoroughly democratic. Belgian communications in the country are at the cutting edge. The public well knew what was happening. Belgian citizens freely elect the parliament. If they found this bill distasteful, voters would sweep the politicians away in the next election. No one predicts that this will occur.
It is obvious. The majority of Belgian voters, even though they still claim to be Catholics, do not care what the Church says.
Under Belgium’s constitution, one final step was required before the bill could become law. The monarch, King Philippe, had to approve it. Educated in Catholic schools, a practicing Catholic, along with his wife, Queen Mathilde, rearing their children as Catholics, he voiced no opposition.
The king’s reaction signaled another shift from the past. A generation ago, another Belgian parliament voted to legalize abortion on demand. At that time, the present king’s late uncle, King Baudouin, whom many Belgians now consider a saint, said that come what may, he would not agree to the legislation. Many politicians were furious, but the king stood his ground. It was not enough. The politicians found a constitutional loophole to get the abortion law on the books regardless of the monarch’s opinion.
Regarding the present, allowing children the right to make such a decision is ludicrous in itself. Belgian law does not support children in other, less serious, decisions. Wherever they are, children are not mature enough to judge many things.
The bill is no bad joke, however. It is very troubling because it displays a pattern in this once staunchly Catholic country, and this pattern is powerful throughout Western Civilization, including the United States. Respect for human life is diminishing. This is the most disturbing departure from the past.
Another factor is at play, the “live and let live” philosophy, rampant in the United States as Catholics stand on the sidelines in debates about abortion and same-sex marriage.
King Baudouin stated that if he approved the abortion law, he absolutely would be an essential means to the end of wilfully destroying innocent human life. As a Catholic, he refused to assume this role. He also said that his condemnation of legalized abortion reminded Belgians of the need for a moral public policy, and he believed that the Catholic Church taught the truth about morality. What an example he was for Catholics — anywhere in the world.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s associate publisher.