Cardinal boots board of London Catholic hospital in ethics conflict

Cardinal boots board of London Catholic hospital in ethics conflict

St. John and St. Elizabeth Hospital in London
St. John and St. Elizabeth Hospital in London


Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor has ordered the board of directors of a Catholic hospital in London to resign after disputes over staff support of abortion, contraception, and sex-change operations, the Guardian reports.

General practitioners at St. John and St. Elizabeth Hospital had been referring patients for abortions and prescribing the so-called morning-after pill, scandalizing many Catholics. 

The general practitioners serve about 9,000 patients at the hospital, which is funded by Britain’s National Health Service, self-paying patients, private health insurance companies and charitable donations.  The hospital serves patients regardless of their religious beliefs, and its maternity ward has become fashionable among celebrities.

According to the Guardian, a spokesman for the Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor explained the decision, saying, "In light of recent difficulties and challenges the cardinal asked the board to resign their office. This was to enable a new chairman to begin his office with the freedom to go about ensuring the future wellbeing of this Catholic hospital. The cardinal offered his sincere thanks to the old board and all they had done."

Members of the previous board included Aida Hersham, a Persian heiress and socialite, and Jacob Rees-Mogg, the son of former Times editor William Rees-Mogg. 

Bishop George Stack, an auxiliary bishop of Westminster, had been appointed to the hospital’s ethics committee to ensure its adherence to Catholic teaching.  In December, two hospital directors resigned in protest, saying the cardinal placed Catholic values above patient care.

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, who as Archbishop of Westminster is head of the Church in England and Wales, has appointed as the hospital’s new chairman Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, a former army chief of staff.  Lord Guthrie will appoint new directors, who will meet on Monday.

In 2005 Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor wrote the then-chairman of the hospital, saying, "There must be clarity that the hospital, being a Catholic hospital with a distinct vision of what is truly in the interests of human persons, cannot offer its patients, non-Catholic or Catholic, the whole range of services routinely accepted by many in modern secular society as being in a patient's best interest."

The firing of the board has generated rumors that the hospital is to be sold, but the hospital’s deputy chief executive denied any plans for sale.  “The committed plan remains to continue the objects of the charity, which, guided by its Catholic ethos, is to serve the local community," the official.