Nuns should stand up for life and pull out of deal

Nuns should stand up for life and pull out of deal
Fr Kevin O’Reilly OP
When people object to Catholic influence in healthcare, effectively what they mean is they want the freedom to take human life, writes Fr Kevin O’Reilly OP

There have been few people willing and able to speak up in defence of the Religious Sisters of Charity. The sisters have had to endure an onslaught on the back of their generosity in agreeing to facilitate the construction of the proposed new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) on the campus of St Vincent’s Hospital.

Since the announcement that the congregation will cease involvement in the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group and that it will withdraw from any involvement in the New National Maternity Hospital, the onslaught has subsided. Indeed, some have even praised the sisters for their decision and hailed its importance. Minister Simon Harris referred to it as “a very significant development”.

That significance for various interests amounts to the fact that the spectre of religious influence in the NMH project has been eliminated. Perhaps those opposed to the sisters’ involvement have understood Bishop Kevin Doran’s assertion that Catholic hospitals have a particular responsibility to uphold Catholic teaching with regard to “the value of human life and the dignity and the ultimate destiny of the human person”.

Catholic teaching with regard to the inviolability of all human life is the teaching of natural reason although natural reason is undoubtedly enhanced in its operation by the light of supernatural faith.


The Catholic Church is to my knowledge the only major institution that defends the inviolability of all human life. It is indebted in particular to St John Paul II’s strong advocacy in this regard. Pope Francis continues the Church’s tradition of its defence of all human life – even if the media chooses to downplay this uncomfortable aspect of his teaching.

In a period of history that has come to recognise itself as post-truth, the Catholic Church is also the only institution to espouse truth. John Paul II, again, penned an important encyclical entitled Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason). Benedict XVI pleaded for a revival of trust in the capacity of human reason to put us in touch with truth. This plea has largely been ignored.

No doubt the banishment of reason and the welcome of post-truth go hand-in-hand with the culture of death that John Paul II saw unfolding before his eyes. In an increasingly secular society that is hostile to Catholicism above all other religions on account of its esteem for reason and its love of human life, it has become more and more difficult for Catholics to escape the pervasive influence of the culture of death.

The decision of the Sisters of Charity with regard to the New National Maternity Hospital is a case in point. As one report in The Irish Times stated, the congregation’s decision “should allay fears that medical procedures allowed by law would not be carried out in the new NMH at St Vincent’s where these may be in conflict with the teachings of the Catholic Church”. In other words, the possibility of conscientious objection to the taking of life in the womb is no longer an issue.


It is difficult not to feel sympathy for the Sisters of Charity. The sustained level of abuse that they have had to endure over recent weeks speaks very poorly of the kind of society into which Ireland has morphed in recent years – one that is seemingly very lacking in gratitude for the selfless work that has been done by the Sisters of Charity since their foundation.

One hopes that one could cite the pressure they have been under as a factor that would mitigate their culpability in facilitating the advance of a regime in which “medical procedures allowed by law” will be carried out. This decision amounts to unacceptable cooperation in those same legal procedures if and when they are performed.

The only ethical route open to them from the beginning – the only option for right reason seeking the truth and demanded by respect for all human life – was to step back graciously from any form of cooperation with the State with respect to the NMH. The State would, rest assured, have found another site for its project.

Even at this late hour I ask the sisters to reflect on the serious implications of their decision for human life and to act in accordance with the demands of truth by withdrawing cooperation. Commitment to the truth will of course bring suffering in its wake.

That is a price that we Catholics are called to pay for following Truth incarnate, namely Jesus Christ.

Fr Kevin E. O’Reilly, OP, is a philosopher and theologian who teaches moral theology at the Angelicum University, Rome. He is the author of two books and various peer-reviewed articles.