The Irish Government has scotched rumours the Vatican could block a new National Maternity Hospital to be built on land owned by a religious congregation over the non-Catholic healthcare, such as abortions, to be provided there.

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“I do not believe that the Government’s plans will be thwarted in any way. The plans are in place and I am confident that they will go ahead”, Irish Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys told The Tablet.

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Humphreys was referring to the Government’s plans to build a new maternity hospital on the site of St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin on land owned by the Religious Sisters of Charity through the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group.

The congregation has already pledged to transfer its shares in the Group to a new charity and stood down two sisters from the hospital board, thus facilitating the building of the new hospital.

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin “has approved and recommended our decision to the Vatican for formal sign off”, the Sisters said in a statement, adding that “we are confident of a positive outcome shortly”.

Vatican approval is needed when religious organisations sell or give away property worth over 3.5 million euros.

But moral theologians have urged the Vatican to a rethink of the deal, saying that the Church cannot back in that way the procedures such as sterilisation, infertility treatment, gender reassignment surgery and abortion that will be performed in the new hospital.

“One can only hope that the competent officials in the Vatican will act in accord with the Church’s constant teaching and the dictates of right reason by forbidding this unconscionable act” of the transfer of the land, Irish professor at the Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas in Rome Fr Kevin O’Reilly OP told The Irish Catholic.

Why it matters

Irish Health Minister Simon Harris has pledged all operations legal in Ireland will be provided at the new hospital, including the abortions legalised in a 2018 referendum.

And indeed, this is what many Dubliners want in their new taxpayer-funded facility, given that opposition to the involvement of the Religious Sisters of Charity in the new clinic generated protests and a 100,000-strong petition two years ago.

Though some elements of the Church, such as moral theologian O’Reilly, are opposed to the land transfer, some other Catholic voices, such as that of Dublin parish priest Fr Gerry Kane are more positive.

“If this were any other Western country, I would say that the land should not be alienated. However, in the context of Ireland, it is time”, Kane told The Irish Catholic.

“I think that the Church in Ireland has been doing the work of the State for far too long… It is time for us to have stand-alone Catholic institutions, like Catholic hospitals, Catholic schools and Catholic third level institutions, alongside secular ones. Then people can choose”.

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