Dr Peter Boylan, one of Ireland’s most respected obstetricians has resigned from the board of a maternity hospital over plans to transfer its ownership to a religious order that ran institutions where women were enslaved and children abused for decades.
Secular campaigners have been leading the opposition to the government’s plan – which emerged earlier this month – to move the National maternity hospital in Dublin to the St Vincent’s Elm Park campus, which is owned by the Sisters of Charity. The Catholic order – still owes €3m (£2.5m) to a government compensation scheme for victims of institutional abuse. The Sisters of Charity never issued a general public apology for the abuse suffered by children in their care.
Boylan told Irish radio: “It has been said that the nuns are not going to run the hospital – that’s absolutely correct. I’ve never suggested that they would run the hospital, but they own the hospital, they own the company that runs it and they have undue representation on the board.”
The minister for health, Simon Harris, has insisted that Catholic ownership of the hospital will not influence the care it provides. We can consider another hospital run by the Sisters of Charity to see how much credence to give that. At St Vincent’s, nuns sit on the board of directors and doctors must sign contracts promising adherence to the ethos of the hospital. The ethos stated on the hospital’s website is “to bring the healing love of Christ to all we serve.” The first stated core value is “respecting the sacredness of human life and the dignity and uniqueness of each person”, which, anyone fighting for reproductive rights in Ireland can tell you, is code for “every zygote has a soul”. If and when Irish women finally win abortion rights, will the National Maternity Hospital implement them?
Barrister Claire Hogan points out that in Ireland, where gruesome medical histories of symphysiotomy and “compassionate hysterectomy” stem from Catholic mores, religious ethos has historically affected women’s medical treatment. The Institute of Obstetricians has expressed concern that even Ireland’s extremely restrictive abortion law, which allows for termination only in the case of threat to the life of the mother, will be compromised in a Catholic-controlled institution.
John Kelly of Survivors of Child Abuse (Soca) Ireland cautioned against having “the religious involved in any way shape or form” in schools and hospitals, while Magdalene Survivors Together expressed “deep anger and absolute shock” at the decision.
Just to recap: the state spends €82m on a report that uncovers heinous abuses perpetrated by Catholic orders against the children it paid them to care for; it pays out over €1bn to the victims, while the godly shirk financial and moral responsibility. It commits another €58m compensating women, while the cassocked again decree themselves blameless.
And it learns what? That Ireland needs further integration of church and state.