A Catholic religious order in Belgium has been told by the Vatican to stop offering euthanasia to their psychiatric patients or face canonical sanctions.
The Vatican has given the Belgian Brothers of Charity until the end of August to stop offering euthanasia to patients in its psychiatric centers.
Each of the religious brothers serving on the board of the order was asked to sign a joint letter declaring their adherence to Church teaching, according to Catholic News Agency. Those who refuse to sign will face punitive action under canon law, and the group itself could face legal action and have its Catholic status revoked if it does not change its policy.
The decree, composed by the congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith and for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, was backed personally by Pope Francis, according to the group's superior general.
"The Holy Father was formally informed about it and was also informed about the steps to be taken," Superior General Rene Stockman said.
The mandate, sent at the beginning of August, came five months after the order's Belgian branch published new guidelines allowing for legal euthanasia to be administered in its 105 health centers in the country.
Stockman, who is Belgian but based in Rome, immediately raised concerns about the change in policy, citing the order's obligation to keep up the fight for "fundamental values," specifically condemning euthanasia for psychiatric patients.
Despite Stockman's objections, the group went ahead with the new policy, which was implemented in June for each of the 15 psychiatric centers they run throughout Belgium.
In response, the general superior asked for the support of the Belgian Catholic Bishops Conference, but the organization continued to resist.
Stockman then took the issue to the Vatican, and he was eventually invited to raise his concerns before both the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
Cardinal Gerhard Muller, former head of the doctrinal congregation, sent a statement to the Brothers of Charity Group members reiterating the Church's teaching on euthanasia, but the letter was ignored.
The lack of response from the group prompted the Congregation for Consecrated Life to issue a mandate asking Stockman "to see that the organization can again be in line" with Church teaching.
Stockman said that he has been in contact with the organization's board members. "They said they received the letter and that they will discuss again in their board the situation. I am waiting for the final answer," he said.
The Brothers of Charity, which is aimed at serving the elderly and the mentally ill, was founded in 1807 in Ghent, Belguim by Fr. Peter Joseph Triest. The organization, which cares for about 5,000 patients a year, is considered to be the most important provider of mental health care services in the Flanders region of Belgium.