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August 9, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — The Belgian Brothers of Charity, a Catholic religious order, have received an ultimatum from the Vatican ordering them to cease offering euthanasia to their psychiatric patients or face canonical sanctions, including possible excommunication.

The decree, which was composed by the congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith and for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, has the support of the pope himself, 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 told the Catholic News Service in an interview.

Members of the order who are on the board overseeing the group’s clinics must sign a letter to the superior general stating 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,” according to CNS.

The Belgian magazine Tertio adds that the group has been required to review its guidelines. Should they refuse, the Belgian branch will lose the recognition of its Catholic status.

The call to order comes five months after the publication by the order’s Belgian branch of new guidelines allowing for legal euthanasia to be administered in the Brothers’ 105 health facilities in the country. Several thousand mentally ill patients stay and receive care in these establishments and they were specifically mentioned as possible candidates for euthanasia.

The Vatican’s firm disciplinary action ends an investigation that was launched with full approval of Stockman, who is Belgian but based in Rome. Stockman immediately voiced grave concern, recalling the order’s obligation to keep up the fight for “fundamental values,” specifically condemning euthanasia for psychiatric patients.

Brother Stockman signed the letter to his Belgian brothers, sending out the ultimatum from the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life. The letter makes clear that the Brothers of Charity’s recent guidelines go resolutely against Church doctrine. This was explicitly pointed out by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, according to the Flemish daily Het Laatste Nieuws.

The journal speaks of a letter sent by Cardinal Gerhard Müller, former Prefect of the Congregation, to Brother Stockman, quoting texts from the Second Vatican Council and Pope Saint John Paul II. Concrete measures to be taken against the Belgian brothers were set out by Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, who heads the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life.

Geert de Cubber, writing for Tertio, remarked that such disciplinary measures “correspond entirely with the Vatican’s standpoint. They always unequivocally said that there must be absolute respect for life, from the beginning to the end. Euthanasia, in the eyes of the Vatican, sums up to giving up care for the feeblest members of society. It is not just a heavy-handed injunction, it’s really based on something.” He goes on to call the Vatican’s reaction “prophetic.”

According to de Cubber, Brother Stockman submitted the Belgian guidelines to Rome in order to obtain action against this major scandal, given Catholics’ absolute rejection of any type of euthanasia. “He has been vindicated”, writes de Cubber.

The Belgian Brothers of Charity have refused requests for interviews. Their website published a short statement on Tuesday acknowledging they have “taken cognizance” of the letter from the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life.

“The letter shall be assessed further by the organs of the congregation and by the organization of the Brothers of Charity that approved the guidelines,” it states.

The papal nuncio in Brussels as well as the Belgian bishops have been fully informed of the Vatican’s move that has received widespread publicity.

The Belgian Brothers of Charity’s mental health institutions offer care to about 20 percent of the country’s psychiatric patients. They have been under pressure from liberal politicians, including the left-wing senator Jean-Jacques De Gucht, who opposes the right to conscientious objection against euthanasia.

“It’s absurd that 20 percent of hospitals refuse to apply the law,” he said earlier this year when the affair first received attention from the press.

How the Board of the Brothers of Charity react remains a question mark. There was speculation initially about a possible majority decision on the part of the lay members of the Board outvoting the religious brothers in order to facilitate euthanasia in their health institutions. Many religious orders in Europe have dwindling communities and there are only about 100 religious of the order active in Belgium. Will they choose to opt out of the Board, leaving the order’s health institutions in the hands of non-religious administrators?

For the record, Herman van Rompuy, former prime minister of Belgium and first president of the new European Council from 2010 to 2012, is a governor of the Board of the Belgian Brothers of Charity who is touted as a “Catholic intellectual.”

The secularization entailed by the fall of vocations could certainly have made possible a climate of relativism apparent in the Brothers’ new guidelines: “We want to think and act on the basis of relational care ethics on a personalistic basis. This means that we never see a value as an absolute value that unconditionally trumps other values, but as a fundamental value that can be put in balance with other values in a personalistic vision of man. In the same way, we do not consider values in an individualistic way, but from a relational viewpoint, so that they are fulfilled in a relationship between people.”

The Vatican reacted with great firmness, but the media uproar is probably only beginning.