All the Sisters of Charity achieved was ramping up anti-Catholicism

Maternity hospital site decision indicates no future here for Catholic healthcare

The Irish Sisters of Charity must have decided that there was no future in this country for Catholic healthcare. This had also been the view of some senior prelates for some time.

It is the only plausible explanation for the extraordinary decision to lobby the Vatican to allow a legal circumvention of strict rules about the disposal of property owned by religious congregations. The net result is that terminations of human life are to be carried out on land formerly owned by religious women allegedly following in the footsteps of Mother Mary Aikenhead.

Dr Peter Boylan is correct that this situation is unprecedented and bizarre. Dr Boylan is wrong that it is unbelievable. It happened and the request was granted.

Was there a pragmatic decision taken that, given there was no future for Catholic healthcare, the fallout from defending the right to life at St Vincent’s would just be too devastating for the church?


If this was the reasoning, all it has achieved is ramping up anti-Catholic ire, all while alienating faithful Catholics.

Listening to objectors to the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) at St Vincent's one would think that it was actually the National Termination Hospital instead. A historian researching in 200 years' time would receive the impression from the objectors that the women of Ireland had no particular interest in giving birth but instead were obsessed with securing the right to abortion.

‘Clinically appropriate’

The furore over the phrase, 'clinically appropriate' was grimly amusing, if only for what it revealed about what is allegedly reproductive healthcare. The comments of Prof Louise Kenny of the University of Liverpool were typical of the objections to the phrase.

On Drivetime on May 11th, she stated baldly: “We currently have legislation in Ireland which provides for abortion under 12 weeks, basically for any women who requests it. It’s not clinically indicated.”

Later, she said “one interpretation” of “clinically indicated” would be “to deny women abortion under 12 weeks because it’s never. . .” Here, Prof Kenny paused, and corrected herself: “It’s potentially not clinically indicated.”

The implication is that doctors are providing abortions not because they are clinically indicated but because women request them. If that is the case, why are doctors carrying out these requested abortions under the guise of medical procedures? This is medicine as ideology, not healthcare.

Nine out of 10 GPs do not provide abortion pills, not because they oppose the rights of women but because they know abortion is not healthcare. They see abortion as something that not only takes a life but does nothing to address the real reasons why women see pregnancy as an unbearable burden.

They see that women will never be truly equal until pregnancy is valued to the extent that no woman has to choose between taking a life and poverty, or taking a life and seeing her hopes and dreams for her own life crushed.

The pro-choice slogan is that if men got pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.

The truth is that if men got pregnant, pregnancy would be valued and society would change to reflect that value.

As for preventing further opprobrium for the Catholic Church, the split in the Repeal movement has seen those who desperately want the NMH project to go ahead competing with objectors to see who has the most impeccable anti-Catholic credentials.

On the same Drivetime programme, Fergus Finlay, an ardent supporter of the NMH deal, claimed that his "distrust of the church goes back 50 years". In the Dáil, Mick Barry, the Solidarity TD, an objector, declared: "When the people voted for repeal, they voted to throw all of the old rubbish out of the house and into the dustbin of history."

Does all the old rubbish include those women in religious life who founded a hospital to fight a cholera epidemic among the destitute poor in 1832? Women risking their lives when everyone else ran for cover? That is, after all, the origin of what is now St Vincent’s hospital.


The irony about the demonisation of Irish religious sisters is that these women were some of a tiny few who operated on equal terms with men long before women could vote. They ran schools and hospitals with brisk efficiency and took nonsense from no man.

Were dreadful things done in the name of religion? Absolutely. Should reparation be made? Absolutely.

There is, however, a profound irony in those who have managed to rehabilitate themselves from a recent history of refusing to condemn murder, mutilation and cover-up of sexual abuse in the pursuit of a united Ireland, hammering and condemning women who ensured Ireland had hospitals when we could not afford them as a state.

All the light that women in religious life brought has been consigned to the memory hole of history, never to be recovered. Only the darkness remains.

By handing over property worth millions to the State for a tenner a year, all the Sisters of Charity have achieved is that not only does Catholic healthcare not have a future in Ireland, but the possibility of a past where both light and shade are acknowledged has become even more remote.