The new National Maternity Hospital board and the Vatican Charter for Healthcare Workers

Much of the commentary about the new National Maternity Hospital has focussed on money. It is of course outrageous that the State would gift a brand new hospital, worth hundred of millions of euro, to a religious order which still owes millions of euro to the redress scheme for those it abused.

But of equal concern is the Vatican Charter for Healthcare Workers, which was renewed as recently as February 2017. This states that:

“Healthcare workers should be given a solid ethico-religious formation, which promotes in them an appreciation of human and Christian values and refines their moral conscience. There is need to develop in them an authentic faith and a true sense of morality, in a sincere search for a religious relationship with God, in whom all ideals of goodness and truth are based.”

More specifically, it gives Catholic instruction to healthcare workers on such issues as artificial procreation, prenatal diagnosis, analgesia and anesthesia, donation and transplant of organs, euthanasia and sickness. We summarise below some of the instructions in this Charter.


The new Maternity Hospital Board

The governance structure of the new hospital will allocate four out of the nine Board seats, to be occupied by St Vincent’s Healthcare Group, owned by the Catholic Sisters of Charity. Such a significant Board representation does not come without influence.

Doctor Peter Boylan, former Master of Holles STreet hospital, has already expressed skepticism that the new hospital “would be the only hospital in the world owned by the Catholic Church, and effectively run by a company that is owned by the Catholic Church, to allow things like IVF, sterilisation, abortion, gender reassignment surgery.”

And Sister Sr Agnes Reynolds, a member of the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group board, has declined to comment on concerns that the Church would influence the medical care provided. She told the Irish Times that she “can’t make a judgment on that.”


The Sisters of Mercy and the Mater Hospital

When the Sisters of Mercy were provided with a Board seat at the Mater hospital, they created the role of “Director of Mission Effectiveness”. Atheist Ireland has previously reported on how this role was used to invest public money in changing the day-to-day work of medical staff, such that it is consistent with “the social teaching of the Church”.

This problem is even more pronounced in the case of the National Maternity Hospital, given that Catholic teachings trespass even more overtly on the ethical issues surrounded the treatment options for patients there. As per the minutes of the Medical Ethics Committee at the Mater Hospital below, it can be seen that medical ethics in general comes “under the umbrella of Mission Effectiveness”.

Minutes of Mater Hospital Ethics Committee, 22nd May 2003

Minutes of Mater Hospital Ethics Committee, 22nd May 2003


The Sisters of Charity and St Vincents Healthcare Group

The stated Mission of St Vincent’s Healthcare Group “is built around the philosophy and code of ethics of the Religious Sisters of Charity”. In fact, then Fr Paul Tighe (now Bishop Paul Tighe) who provided the medical ethics course that was delivered to the Mater Hospital, also contributed to the “Mission Education Program” at St Vincent’s Hospital. By 2005, more than a thousand members of staff at St Vincent’s Hospital had attended this course on the religious mission of the hospital.


The Vatican Charter for Healthcare Workers 2017

Religious Missions for Catholic hospitals are not an historic issue. As recently as February 2017, the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance has renewed their “Charter for Healthcare Workers”. This is a document that many Irish Catholics may find disagreement with.

However, the Irish State is not providing Board seats on hospitals based exclusively on the most informed medical opinions. It is not even providing Board seats based on the consensus opinion among Irish Catholics.

It is providing Board seats, and therefore significant influence, to the institutional Church that retains the most doctrinaire opinions, informed by the most arcane Vatican teachings.

Here are a few example extracts from the instructions that have been given to healthcare workers by the Vatican:


Artificial procreation 

Nature itself dictates that the transmission of human life be a personal and conscious act and, as such, subject to the most holy laws of God: immutable and inviolable laws which must be acknowledged and observed. Fertilization in vitro with embryo transfer is illicit because conception is not the result of a conjugal act—the fruit of the conjugal act specific to the love between the spouses.


Prenatal diagnosis 

Prenatal life is fully human in every phase of its development. Hence health care workers owe it the same respect, the same protection and the same care as that given to a human person. Gynecologists and obstetricians especially must keep a careful watch over the wonderful and mysterious process of generation taking place in the maternal womb, to ensure its normal development and successful outcome with the birth of the new child.

If, despite every effort, the life of the child is at serious risk, health care workers should see to the child’s baptism according to the conditions provided by the Church. If an ordinary minister of the sacrament is unavailable — a priest or a deacon — the health care worker has the faculty to confer it.

Prenatal diagnosis is gravely contrary to the moral law when it contemplates the possibility depending on the result, of provoking an abortion. The gravity of the sin of abortion and the ease with which it is carried out, supported by law and the modern mentality, prompts the Church to threaten the penalty of excommunication for the Christian who procures it. One who procures an effective abortion incurs latae sententiae excommunication.

Health care workers have special obligations with regard to aborted fetuses. An aborted fetus, if it is still alive, should be baptized if at all possible. A dead aborted fetus must be given the same respect as a human corpse. This means that it cannot be disposed of as just another item of rubbish. If at all possible it should be appropriately interred. Likewise, the fetus cannot be used for experimentation or transplant if the abortion was caused voluntarily. To do so would be an unworthy instrumentalization of a human life.


Analgesia and anesthesia 

For the Christian, pain has a lofty penitential and salvific meaning. It is, in fact, a sharing in Christ’s Passion and a union with the redeeming sacrifice which he offered in obedience to the Father’s will. Therefore, one must not be surprised if some Christians prefer to moderate their use of painkillers, in order to accept voluntarily at least part of their sufferings and thus associate themselves in a conscious way with the sufferings of Christ.


Donation and transplanting of organs 

When total cerebral death is verified with certainty, that is, after the required tests, it is licit to remove organs and also to surrogate organic functions artificially in order to keep the organs alive with a view to a transplant.

Ethically, not all organs can be donated. The brain and the gonads may not be transplanted because they ensure the personal and procreative identity respectively. These are organs which embody the characteristic uniqueness of the person, which medicine is bound to protect.



The pleas of gravely ill persons who sometimes ask for death are not to be understood as implying a true desire for euthanasia; in fact it is almost always a case of an anguished plea for help and love. What a sick person needs, besides medical care, is love, the human and supernatural warmth with which the sick person can and ought to be surrounded by those close to him or her, parents and children, doctors and nurses.

The sick person who feels surrounded by a loving human and Christian presence does not give way to depression and anguish as would be the case if one were left to suffer and die alone and wanting to be done with life. This is why euthanasia is a defeat for the one who proposes it, decides it and carries it out. Far from being an act of mercy to the patient, euthanasia is a gesture of individual and social self-pity and an escape from an unbearable situation.



Sickness is more than a clinical fact, medically controlled … The Christian knows by faith that sickness and suffering share in the salvific efficacy of the Redeemer’s cross. “Christ’s redemption and its salvific grace touches the whole person in his human condition and hence also in sickness, suffering and death. On the Cross, the miracle of the serpent lifted up by Moses in the desert is renewed and brought to full and definitive perfection. Today, too, by looking upon the one who was pierced, every person whose life is threatened encounters the sure hope of finding freedom and redemption.

Borne in close union with the sufferings of Jesus, sickness and suffering assume an extraordinary spiritual fruitfulness. So that the sick person can say with the Apostle: “I fill up in my body what is wanting to the sufferings of Christ, for the sake of his body which is the Church”. From this new Christian meaning, the sick person can be helped to develop a triple salutary attitude to the illness: an “awareness” of its reality “without minimizing it or exaggerating it”; “acceptance, not with a more or less blind resignation” but in the serene knowledge that “the Lord can and wishes to draw good from evil”; “the oblation, made out of love for the Lord and one’s brothers and sisters.”


Catholic Church teaching does not reflect Irish opinion

The direction of the influence applied by Board members of Irish public hospitals from Roman Catholic religious orders is not a secret, and does not represent Irish opinion on the moral issues surrounding healthcare. It does not even represent Irish Catholic opinion on the ethical issues relating to healthcare. For example, the current Roman Catholic Catechism states that contraception is “intrinsically evil”.

Catechism 2370

Catechism 2370

Given that 78% of the country self-identify as Catholics but only 3% of sexually active people in the country use Catholic methods of family planning, we can safely say that most Catholics ignore this teaching. The same can be said of many other Catholic teachings too, and so we can be tempted to think that Catholic influence within public services is insipid.

This misses the point that the State does not award control of public services to “average Catholics”. It provides significant control over our education system and our health system to the institutional Catholic Church, which is doctrinaire in nature. Unlike the majority of Irish Catholics, members of religious orders within the institutional Church do not typically ignore Catechism. Can you think of a single Catholic Bishop in Ireland who has ever said that a single line of Catechism is mistaken?

Why exactly does the State believe that those from religious orders wish to sit on hospital Boards? If a hospital Board wishes to implement a policy in the public interest, which happens to be in contravention of Catholic teaching, how does the State believe that this will be facilitated by stacking the Board with doctrinaire Catholics?



If these are not the opinions that should be given to healthcare workers within our hospital system, then Roman Catholic religious orders should not be facilitated with Board seats or other influence in public hospitals.

We have seen that hospitals which have religious Missions and religious orders on their Boards, take specific actions to reflect those religious Missions in the everyday activities of the medical staff.

Atheist Ireland will continue to campaign for public services that are independent of religious influence.


“Pope Francecso I” by JeffyBruno is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Atheist Ireland