Canon law may still block proposal
The Archdiocese of Dublin has been left in the dark over plans by the Religious Sisters of Charity to relinquish control of the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group and enable the building of a new National Maternity Hospital.
According to a diocesan spokesperson, there has been no contact between the sisters and the archdiocese around the issue, despite religious orders needing permission from the local ordinary – in the case of St Vincent’s Hospital, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin – or even the Vatican when seeking to dispose of property above certain values.
The diocesan admission comes against a background of reports that the planned move of the National Maternity Hospital to St Vincent’s has become bogged down following a new demand from Health Minister Simon Harris that the State should have a ‘public-interest director’ on the board of the new institution. The two hospitals have jointly warned that contracts to begin moving infrastructure to St Vincent’s must be signed by the end of this year if building regulations are to be met.
This deadline does not allow for the possibility of the diocese or Holy See vetoing a plan that would entail disposing of Church property to facilitate abortions and other actions contrary to Church teaching.
Under canon law, Irish religious bodies need permission from the local bishop when disposing of assets worth over €348,460. Permission is needed from the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life when assets being disposed of are valued at more than €3,484,595. The congregation would typically not approve of such disposals without at least receiving confirmation from the local bishop that he does not object to the religious body’s plan.
The sisters issued a statement in May 2017 stating that they were ending involvement in the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group and would neither own nor manage the new maternity hospital to be built on the grounds of St Vincent’s Hospital in south Dublin, with Sr Mary Christian, the sisters’ Congregational Leader, saying the proposal was “subject to implementation of all necessary legal, financial and regulatory matters”.
Although 18 months have passed since the statement’s publication, The Irish Catholic understands the sisters have not contacted the Archdiocese of Dublin about the matter, with a diocesan spokesperson having previously told this paper that in matters such as this “canonical requirements are examined only when due process is underway and they cannot be determined in advance”.
One canon lawyer, speaking on condition of anonymity, raised the question of whether the sisters had even considered their obligations under Church law when proposing to dispose of the healthcare group, instead seeking only the advice of civil lawyers.
“My experience with civil lawyers is that they don’t really understand or even think of canon law,” he said, explaining that the sisters have a duty to go through the proper channels.
“It’s very much on the nuns – it’s their property, so it’s up to them to go through the correct canonical process to alienate,” he continued.
“If it goes to Rome, and is not allowed to happen for immoral purposes, the whole thing could come down on them like a tonne of bricks.”