The group has refused to reverse its decision to allow euthanasia in its hospitals

The Belgian Brothers of Charity have defied the Pope and announced they will continue offering euthanasia at their hospitals despite being ordered to stop.

The group said in a statement that it “continues to stand by its vision statement on euthanasia for mental suffering in a non-terminal situation” and that they “emphatically believe” the practice is compatible with Catholic teaching.

The group also claimed the decision had “come about starting from the Christian frame of thought” and that they “always take into account the shifts and evolutions within society”.

Last month, Pope Francis approved a Vatican demand that Brothers must stop offering euthanasia by the end of August.

The Vatican also told brothers who serve on board of the Brothers of Charity Group, the organization that runs the centres, to sign a joint letter to their superior general declaring that 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 group now faces the possibility of legal action, and possibly even expulsion from the Church, unless it complies.

The Brothers of Charity Group is largely composed of lay members, with few brothers actually serving on it.

Brother Rene Stockman, the order’s superior general, has repeatedly condemned their decision and warned that unless they stop offering euthanasia “we will take juridical steps in order to force them to amend the text [of the policy] and, if that is not possible, then we have to start the procedure to exclude the hospitals from the Brothers of Charity family and take away their Catholic identity.”

Last month, former EU president Herman van Rompuy, who serves on the Brothers of Charity Group board, appeared to criticise Pope Francis, saying “The time of ‘Roma locuta causa finita’ is long past”.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes euthanasia and assisted suicide as “murder, gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God.”