National Maternity Hospital and canon law


Sir, – Patsy McGarry reports that an unnamed canon lawyer (“Irish law, not canon law, to govern National Maternity Hospital”, News, May 23rd) believes that “there is nothing in the letter of grant” from Rome which could be seen as “a stipulation that church canon law, doctrine or teaching must be observed by St Vincent’s Holdings, or the proposed NMH”.

This opinion is baffling. I too have seen the letter of grant of March 16th, signed by senior Vatican official Sr Carmen Ros Nortes. She states that the Vatican grants the transfer request by the Sisters of Charity “in conformity with the petition” and that, “The provisions relating to the validity and lawfulness of alienations, found in Canons 638-639 and Canons 1292-1294 of the Code of Canon Law and in Proper Law, are to be observed.”

This last sentence is emphasised in bold type in the communication.

Thus, everything the Sisters of Charity now do in respect of transferring their 100 per cent shareholding in St Vincent’s Healthcare Group to St Vincent’s Holdings CLG must observe canon law, specifically the canons cited and must be in conformity with the reasons they gave the Vatican for wanting to undertake the transfer.

In this respect, Canon 1293 is particularly relevant. Canon 1293.1.1. requires that the Sisters of Charity must have “a just cause, such as urgent necessity, evident advantage, piety, charity, or some other grave pastoral reason” to make the transfer. Canon 1293.2. requires that “other precautions prescribed by legitimate authority are also to be observed to avoid harm to the Church”.

As a result of the Vatican stipulations, the problem now facing the Sisters of Charity is how to effect a transfer that brings 186 years of Catholic healthcare ministry to an end, the result of which will facilitate a hospital which will perform abortions and other procedures absolutely forbidden by Catholic teaching?

Where is the “just cause” and what is the potential for such approval to cause “harm to the church” in the eyes of the faithful?

No wonder many Irish Catholics are alarmed and confused.

In comments published in the Sunday Times over the weekend, Archbishop Eamon Martin stated that “the carrying out of abortions or morally illicit medical procedures at the NMH would be repugnant” to Catholic teaching and “regardless of the eventual outcome of the proposed transfer, the church will remain clear in its public statements that there is no place in a maternity hospital for abortion”.

How does Archbishop Martin reconcile Catholic teaching on abortion with his support for the Sisters’ request to the Vatican which will clear the way for St Vincent’s Holdings CLG to own a hospital in which abortion, IVF, elective sterilisation and other procedures will constitute part of the daily routine?

What does the Primate of All Ireland consider to be the “just cause” for this transfer? Is he concerned about harm to the church?

The constitution of St Vincent’s Holdings CLG, which will own the new NMH, will surely be subject to the provisions of the canon laws outlined in the letter of grant.

This is not a theoretical discussion. The taxpayers of Ireland who will fund the new NMH, and the women of Ireland who will attend it, deserve clarity.

None of the information currently in the public domain allays well-founded fears about the potential for Catholic ethos to influence clinical practice in the new NMH.

And all this before full consideration as to why even the Irish Government would hand ownership of a €500 million maternity hospital of key national importance to a private charity. – Yours, etc,


(Life Governor

and former Master,

National Maternity


Dublin 6.