.- The Australian Capital Territory Government’s bid to buy Calvary Public Hospital in Canberra could endanger other public hospitals run by religious organizations, Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell has said. He has also asserted that anti-Christian motives may be driving the proposal. The cardinal gave his full support to Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn Mark Coleridge, who opposes the sale of the 250-bed Catholic-run hospital.
According to the Archdiocese of Sydney, Cardinal Pell said the motives behind the effort to buy the hospital, which is also a leading teaching hospital, appear to be ideologically driven by anti-Christian elements in the ACT’s Labour Government.
The ACT Government, which oversees the capital area of Canberra within New South Wales, offered $77 million to hospital owners Little Company of Mary Health Care (LCMHC). It claimed the takeover would boost investment in the hospital and streamline services.
The LCMHC would be able to purchase the nearby palliative care center, Clare Holland House, for $9 million. It has provisionally agreed to the deal.
The Government's claims of improved service and taxpayer savings, the Archdiocese of Sydney reported, are seen by many as “no more than smokescreen with many Catholics and non-Catholics in Canberra unconvinced by such claims.”
Cardinal Pell believes the Government’s offer should be seen in the wider context of hostility to religious participation in public life and service provision. He has warned that other religious-run public hospitals will be targeted if the sale of Calvary Public Hospital is successful.
“Whatever the peculiarities of the ACT, what happens at Calvary will inevitably have some effect on other Catholic health care institutions,” Archbishop Coleridge commented. He said the loss of the hospital would diminish the Catholic voice and Catholic contributions to the ethical debate concerning the adoption of a Charter of Human Rights.
Cardinal Pell and religious leaders of other faiths have voiced concerns over the proposed Charter, citing the British Human Rights Act of 1998 as an example of a charter that can create severe restrictions on religious freedoms and freedom of speech.
“Perhaps there is in the ACT Government an ideological bias not found elsewhere – a bias which claims that private health providers, let alone Catholic providers, have no place in public hospitals," Archbishop Coleridge speculated.
However, the archbishop, Cardinal Pell, and Catholic organizations are concerned that any bias is not unique and may relate to the larger pressures of secular society.
ACT Health Minister Katy Gallagher has denied that “ideology and Christian values” have been part of the government’s consideration. She has accused Cardinal Pell of interfering with the proposed sale.
However, opposition health spokesman for the ACT, Jeremy Hanson, said the cardinal was entitled to his comments, which highlighted the flaws of the proposal.
Others concerned about the sale worry that the $77 million price for the hospital would affect finances for health services for several years.
Permission from the Vatican must be granted to the LCMHC before the ACT can take over the hospital, Further, the Archdiocese of Sydney reports, submissions from ACT citizens and the church must also be heard.
Archbishop Coleridge has urged Catholics to speak “vigorously and creatively” before submissions close.
"This is required of us, I think, if we wish to honor the legacy of those who worked so hard to establish and conduct Calvary as a first rate Catholic hospital at the service of the whole community, especially the vulnerable," he remarked.