The New NMH Must Be Indisputably Secularist

I was raised Catholic and I have a deep love and respect for the religion. But I don’t believe that the Sisters of Charity should be the owners of the new National Maternity Hospital. I believe this serves neither the best interests of patients or the Sisters.

Seeing as how I’ve started this I may as well tell you I’m no longer a practising Catholic. I stopped going to mass regularly when I was about 16. This had nothing to do with any crisis of faith or any problem with the religion. I developed a blushing phobia – anytime I thought “it would be so weird if I blushed now” I’d blush and it made me avoid public places a lot. It was very disabling. And mass was one of the things I stopped going to.

I never fully accepted all the teachings of the Church. Very few people I knew seemed to. There were even priests who’d argue in favour of women priests or why parochial priests should allowed be married (I think they were allowed to marry until the 11th century and the only reason that ended was for financial reasons – turns out the history of that is more complicated that I thought).

It’s one of the misconceptions some people who aren’t religious have about religious adherents. It’s a very understandable misunderstanding. Why would you expect that people who practice a religion don’t always accept all the teachings or dogma of that faith? But that’s often the way it is.

When you’re part of the religion you gloss over the bits you disagree with. You don’t really notice them. They’re part of the background noise – like the base hum of the cable box that you can notice at night when you sit in the TV room with the TV off – but you never notice when you’re actually watching something. But then when you return to some religious service – after a long break – all the messages you hear seem to be pitched at the same level so the ones you disagree with do sound a lot louder than before.

But that isn’t what’s kept me away from mass. There are two reasons I find it hard to return. One is that my conception of God has changed utterly over the years. I won’t bore you with my set of beliefs… Basically I have a pantheistic conception of God now. Which is actually kind of annoying because you have to admit that everyone, even people you can’t stand, are all part of God. And the second reason is that I associate mass and Catholicism with a very simple time in my life – the good and real lessons it offers were very apparent to me and they seemed to be evidenced my world then. I’m lucky I once had such a charmed existence but I’ve seen many different sides to life since then and now when I sit and listen to the sweet lessons on true strength and courage and love I feel mostly sadness that I can’t feel the truth of their message with the same simplicity I once did.

What prompted me to write this today was the Pope’s TED talk. If you find the format of TED talks quite off-putting don’t worry this isn’t in the usual format. His message is simple and beautiful – basically that what matters is how we treat each other and how real strength is having the power over oneself to be tender and humble. This is the Catholic Church that I know and love.

After watching it my thoughts naturally turned to the news item that has caused me to think about Catholic stuff recently; the new National Maternity Hospital that is proposed to be built on a site which belongs to the Sisters of Charity who will then own the new hospital. Assurances have been made that the services of the new NMH will be completely independent of any religious concerns.

The Sisters of Charity are one of the orders who ran industrial schools where historical cases of child abuse came to light in the 1990s. You can read the Ryan Report on that online. The investigation, reporting and redress payments owed to victims of that abuse cost millions. The orders agreed to pay part of this money with the Irish state being responsible for the rest. The Sisters of Charity owe the state around €3 million. They are now contesting this as they object to how expensive the investigation turned out to be.

In fairness, we really need to find more cost effective ways to investigate things in this country – the issue of the cost of tribunals is definitely something I could rant about. That said, considering what had to be investigated in this case, I cannot believe that there is any question in anyone’s mind as to their liability for these costs. It’s particularly hard to understand how the order itself would not want to pay all they could. That report I link to above includes apologies by the nuns for the crimes that happened in institutions the order ran in the past.

When I signed the Uplift petition “Block Sisters of Charity as ‘sole owners’ of National Maternity Hospital” I was thinking about what had happened in the past. You might think that’s a bit unfair of me, after all things are very different now, what’s past is past – and yes, that’s true, but … I find the fact that they will not pay what they owe … quite galling. I believed the apologies printed in the Ryan Report were sincere but finding out that they are now refusing to fully pay their share – it … well no, I believe it was sincere at the time – but what changed?

Yesterday Dr Peter Boylan, a former master of the current NMH in Holles Street, resigned from its board because of his grave concerns over transferring ownership of the NMH to a healthcare group that is owned by a religious order.

Reading his resignation letter made me realise I was silly to be troubled by what happened in the past. It is the future of our National Maternity Hospital that is the real issue here.

Hospitals on land owned by the Catholic Church are obliged to follow Catholic teaching and Canon Law on medical practices and procedures. The proposed hospital will be built on land owned by the Religious Sisters of Charity, the hospital will be owned outright by the Religious Sister of Charity, and the company tasked with running the hospital will be owned outright by the Religious Sisters of Charity. To believe the new National Maternity Hospital will be the only hospital in the world owned by a Catholic congregation to permit sterilisation, IVF, abortion, gender reassignment surgery and any other procedures prohibited by the Church is naïve and delusional.Dr Peter Boylan
Resignation Letter to NMH Board

Very difficult to argue with that statement. The hospital is to be our National Maternity Hospital. It cannot be – it shouldn’t be – owned by a religious group. I found this article explaining some potential problems with the state compulsorily purchasing the site. I think if the Sisters won’t readily agree to accept a CPO perhaps we need to consider another site. I know this is desperately needed and quickly – but how can you argue with Dr Boylan’s statement? It is very difficult to believe that Catholic dogma would not influence the operations of an NMH owned solely by a Catholic order.

At the start of this post I said that I don’t think it’s in the Sisters’ interests to be the sole owners of this hospital. This is because I am sure they do very good work. And I’m certain that an NMH that they owned would have many patients delighted with the care they received there. But that isn’t what people will remember when they hear cases of women denied essential care because the treatments they requested weren’t approved by the Catholic Church.

My experience of Catholicism, both as a practicant, and as a student in Catholic schools, has been very positive. I hope the Church – together with other religions and secular groups – continues to contribute to the richness of our society, continues to contribute to debates about where we are headed and what really matters. Continues to contribute. Not controls.

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There will be a protest march next Sunday, May 7th, entitled “We Own Our Hospitals“. It will begin at the Garden of Remembrance at 2pm and finish at Leinster House.

It is being organised by Parents for Choice. You can read a little more about it here.

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A slightly hopeful sign on the horizon – the Minister for Health Simon Harris is to consider public ownership options for the NMH.

This possible change of course took not only the resignation of Dr Peter Boylan mentioned above, but also Dr Chris Fitzpatrick from his role in planning the relocation of the NMH.

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Dáil backs Sinn Féin motion seeking NMH independence

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29/05/17

The Religious Sisters of Charity are to end their involvement in St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG) and will have no involvement in the new national maternity hospital on its campus, the order has said. – https://www.irishtimes.com/news/health/sisters-of-charity-to-end-involvement-in-maternity-hospital

This is great news. Thanks to the Sisters of Charity for taking this decision.

Here’s another article which goes into a bit more detail – this time by thejournal.ie.

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