Catholic leader pressures hospital to be pro-life

By Jonathan Petre, Religion Correspondent for the telegraph

Britain’s senior Roman Catholic leader has intensified the pressure on a private Catholic hospital popular with celebrity mothers to conform to Church teaching on abortion.

  Cardinal Cormac Murphy-OConnor
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-OConnor

Speaking publicly for the first time during the long-running dispute, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-OConnor urged St John and St Elizabeth’s in north London to become the country’s “flagship pro-life” (no-choice) hospital.

The Cardinal’s comments came on the eve of a critical board meeting at which the hospital is due to accept or reject a new code of ethics barring doctors from referring abortions or providing contraceptives.

The Cardinal, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, who is patron of the hospital, drew up the new code after an inquiry last year found that medical staff were already breaching Church teaching.

The code was supposed to be implemented at the beginning of this year, but has been delayed by opposition from doctors and executives.

The impasse has centred on plans by the hospital to open a new £11 million development on its site next month for GPs who are obliged to provide some family planning services under their NHS contracts.

The Cardinal, who in 2005 discussed the case with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, said that it was up to him to ensure that the hospital abided by Catholic principles, adding: “It can’t be Catholic unless I say so.” He told the Catholic Herald newspaper that the hospital could become “a flagship, a sign of our convictions.”

“It is important to give a sign to society that here is a hospital which will adhere to this particular code”. He continued: “I am putting myself on the side of the acceptance of the code. I don’t want to consider other possibilities and I don’t see why I should. If there is a board which wants the hospital to be a Catholic hospital then why don’t we go along that road? There are difficulties which have arisen but it is up to the board to work them out.
I do think it is important for me to get it right. It seems to me that what is being asked is not unreasonable or not impossible to fulfil.”

The hospital, which was founded by the Church in 1856, was once run by the Sisters of Mercy, an order that worked with Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War.

Described in magazines as the “poshest place to push”, its maternity unit has become popular with celebrities and the actresses Cate Blanchett and Emma Thompson and the models Kate Moss and Heather Mills are among those who have given birth there.

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said that the final decision over the code of ethics rested with the hospital’s board.

He added: “If it came to crunch I would say this is no longer a Catholic hospital but I won’t want to do that. I want it to be a pro-life (no-choice) hospital.

“It may need reorganisation but it would be well worth it.” Lord Bridgeman, the chairman of the trustees, has said that he is confident that a satisfactory compromise can be agreed.

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