A pending land transfer from a religious community to the Irish government for the construction of a new maternity hospital has sparked new controversy, as the hospital is expected to perform abortions under new laws permitting the procedure.
The Religious Sisters of Charity currently own the land that is set aside for a $335 million taxpayer-funded National Maternity Hospital. The facility will be built on the campus of St. Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin. The sisters announced two years ago that they were planning to transfer ownership of three local hospitals, including St. Vincent’s, to a group that will no longer follow Catholic medical ethics.
In a May 2018 referendum, Irish voters repealed a constitutional amendment recognizing the right to life of unborn children as equal to mothers' right to life. Legislators then enacted legislation allowing abortion through 12 weeks of pregnancy, or later in “exceptional circumstances.”
Some Catholics are now arguing that in light of the referendum, the sisters should not go through with the land transfer.
Fr Kevin O’Reilly OP, a moral theologian at the Angelicum in Rome, told The Irish Catholic that the Vatican should block the land transfer, because the Irish government says abortions will take place at the new maternity hospital.
“Thanks to the 36th Amendment of the Constitution, Ireland – to its great shame – now boasts an extremely liberal abortion regime, O’Reilly said.
“It is bewildering that those who have facilitated the process to date clearly do not possess any degree of moral foresight,” he said.
“One can only hope that the competent officials in the Vatican will act in accord with the Church’s constant teaching and the dictates of right reason by forbidding this unconscionable act.”
The National Maternity Hospital is currently located in Dublin’s Holles Street, but will be relocated to the campus of St. Vincent’s Hospital, where patients will be able to receive a wider range of care.
When plans for the new hospital were announced, abortion advocates spoke out against the sisters being involved in its management. Two of the National Maternity Hospital’s board members resigned, citing concerns that the maternity hospital may be run in accordance with Catholic teaching on human life and sexuality, The Tablet reported.
However, the National Maternity Hospital's board had said the new facility will be run independently. Government officials have indicated that the facility will offer all legal medical procedures, including sterilization, in-vitro fertilization, gender transition surgery, and abortion.
Heather Humphreys, Ireland’s Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, told The Tablet that she does not expect the land transfer will be halted.
“The plans are in place and I am confident that they will go ahead,” she said.
Canon law requires Vatican permission for the religious order to sell or give away property worth more than €3.5 million. The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life normally approves such transactions.
The Religious Sisters of Charity said in a statement that Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has approved the land transfer and “recommended our decision to the Vatican for formal sign off.” The sisters said they are “confident of a positive outcome shortly.”
In May 2017, Ireland's Sisters of Charity announced that they would be ending their management of three Dublin hospitals which comprise St. Vincent’s Healthcare Group. The hospitals are to be handed over to a new company, which would be called St. Vincent’s, and the sisters would no longer have any ownership or management of the health care facilities.
Under new management, the facilities will no longer adhere to Catholic medical ethics.
The health care group's origins date back to 1834, when Mary Aikenhead, the founder of the Religious Sisters of Charity, established St. Vincent's Hospital.
Until 2017, the St. Vincent's Healthcare Group included three hospitals. As part of the plan to transfer ownership, two sisters who were on the board of the healthcare group agreed to resign, and the congregation agreed to give up the right to appoint board directors.
In addition, the sisters said, the Religious Sisters of Charity Health Service Philosophy and Ethical Code would no longer be authoritative as the governing documents for the healthcare group. Rather, the documents were to be “amended and replaced to reflect compliance with national and international best practice guidelines on medical ethics and the laws of the Republic of Ireland.”
The Sisters of Charity have committed to paying millions in financial redress to compensate abuse victims who lived the residential institutions they and 18 other religious congregations managed on behalf of the government in previous decades.