DUBLIN — A leading Irish priest, Father Kevin Doran, has dramatically resigned from the board of directors for the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, after it issued a statement saying it would carry out abortions under the government’s recently passed abortion legislation.
Father Doran, who organized last year’s successful International Eucharistic Congress, was the nominee of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin to the board.
The hospital issued a statement Sept. 24 that said, having considered the government’s new abortion law, it would "comply with the law as provided for in the [Protection of Life During Pregnancy] Act."
Father Doran made no comment to the Register when asked why he had resigned, beyond saying that the reasons should be self-evident.
However, before his resignation, he told the Register that, while he wasn’t prepared to make a comment about the hospital’s statement specifically at that point, speaking as an ethicist, a Catholic hospital "has a responsibility not just to provide treatment and the care of Christ for the sick, but it also has a responsibility to bear witness to the Gospel."
He added, "The challenge for all Catholic hospitals at a time when society is becoming more secularized is to live up to that responsibility."
Father Doran also made clear to the Register that, while he was Archbishop Martin’s nominee on the hospital’s board, he was not answerable to him.
Father Doran told The Irish Catholic newspaper that he had resigned because he was unable "to reconcile my own conscience personally with the [hospital’s] statement, largely because I feel a Catholic hospital has to bear witness."
The new legislation names a range of institutions in which abortions may take place under the new law, including the Mater Hospital and another Catholic hospital, St. Vincent’s University Hospital.
While neither of these hospitals is a maternity hospital, the legislation envisioned that pregnant women might be admitted to either hospital in certain emergency situations.
St. Vincent’s had already said that it would comply with the new law after Health Minister James Reilly said that there would be no conscience opt-outs for Catholic hospitals.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church unequivocally condemns all intentional abortions, stating, "Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law" (2271).
The Catechism adds, "The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined" (2273).
Ireland’s new law — passed at the direction of Prime Minister Enda Kenny, despite his earlier promise not to introduce such legislation — allows abortion up until birth in two specific circumstances. Firstly, it allows doctors to perform abortions in circumstances in which they believe a woman’s life can only be saved by an abortion.
Secondly, and even more controversially, the legislation permits abortion where two psychiatrists and one obstetrician affirm that a woman will commit suicide if she is denied an abortion.
This provision was especially contentious, as there is no medical evidence to show that abortion is a treatment for suicidal feelings or suicidal intent.
In a Sept. 30 First Things column referenced by The Irish Catholic article, Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Neb., said the hospital "will abandon its commitment to the Gospel in favor of a false doctrine of ‘compassion, concern and clinical care.’"
With respect to performing abortions in cases where the mother alleges she is experiencing suicidal thoughts, Bishop Conley added, "There is no concern for patients when mental health is treated by violence."
No Hospital Opt-Outs
The Irish bishops strongly opposed the legislation, and they repeatedly made the point that Irish women receive all the care they need in Irish hospitals, which have been amongst the safest anywhere in the world without abortion.
Nevertheless, while the legislation provides a conscience opt-out for doctors who refuse to perform abortions, Reilly was adamant that no publicly funded hospital could opt out of performing abortions.
"All institutions mentioned [in the bill] are funded by the taxpayer. We could not have a situation where a service funded by the taxpayer could deprive a citizen of rights," he said in June. "In those circumstances, we see absolutely no indication or room for an institution to have a conscientious objection."
In response, St. Vincent’s Hospital said that it would, "as always, be following the law of the land."
However, in August, Father Doran said that Mater Hospital would not be able to comply with the new law.
He told The Irish Times, "The Mater can’t carry out abortions because it goes against its ethos. I would be very concerned that the minister sees fit to make it impossible for hospitals to have their own ethos.
"The issue is broader than just abortion. What’s happening is the minister is saying hospitals are not entitled to have an ethos."
It is understood that Father Doran’s statement led to repeated media inquiries about the stance to be taken by the hospital. In response, the hospital’s board felt they needed to make last month’s statement.
The hospital is run by the Sisters of Mercy order, while the Archdiocese of Dublin is a member of the hospital’s parent company.
In response to the hospital’s statement, Archbishop Martin has said he will be seeking clarification as to what it means.
Responding to questions about the issue, he said that, even though he was president of the hospital, he had no powers in the governance of the hospital.
He also defended Mater Hospital’s pro-life record, saying it had been scrupulous in trying to defend both the life of the mother and the unborn child.
"There have been extremely complicated [pregnancies], and I know that they are scrupulous in the policy of trying to defend both the life of the mother and the unborn child. I hope that that continues," he said.
Meanwhile, the hospital’s statement was welcomed by Choice Ireland, a leading pro-abortion group. Spokeswoman Sinead Ahern said that she was happy that the hospital "was going to actually comply with the law."
However, she said she was "very concerned at the idea that a state-funded hospital feels that it can opt in or opt out of the law."
"It is not the place of hospitals to decide which laws they want or don’t want to follow," she said.
Ahern said that, while she accepted that doctors’ right to conscientiously object must be respected, this could not apply when a woman’s life was at risk.
"The government was right to prevent institutions from choosing whether they could obey the law or not," she said.
Catholic Identity Imperiled
By contrast, one leading medical ethicist has expressed grave concern over the government’s stance.
Dónal O’Mathúna, a lecturer at Dublin City University, said that the government’s refusal to acknowledge the conscience rights of institutions as well as those of individuals was "problematic."
O’Mathúna, who worked in the U.S. for a number of years, said protecting the ethos of medical institutions is vital.
"Catholic hospitals in the United States have retained their right of conscience partly because their commitment to the poor and uninsured is distinctive, while many hospitals become business-centered and profit-orientated," he said. "People say they experience something different when the ethos is real."
He said that if Mater’s ethos is eroded, "Ireland will lose a hospital that provides a distinct kind of health care: one motivated by a care and compassion that is best explained by its roots in the care and compassion of Jesus Christ."
Meanwhile, a leading Catholic theologian has said that the Mater statement had serious implications for its status as a Catholic institution.
John Murray, a lecturer in moral theology at Mater Dei Institute of Education, said that it was "very odd and also totally unacceptable that a Catholic hospital would act in a way that endorses a law that allows and even requires direct abortions to be performed in that hospital."
He added, "A Catholic hospital’s ethos is based on full, free, personal, professional and public commitment to Jesus Christ, God made man, the Healer and the Way, the Truth and the Life.
"Any allowing of direct abortion or carrying out of direct abortion would contradict Christ, as direct abortion is an attack on the good of innocent human life, on the person who is killed, on the unique unborn baby made in God’s image."
Government MP Resigns
Fallout continues among Prime Minister Kenny’s ruling Fine Gael party as a result of the passage of the abortion legislation.
Former party whip Peter Matthews — who was stripped of his legislative post as a consequence of voting against the abortion bill — announced he had delivered a letter to Kelly resigning from the party, The Irish Times reported Oct. 3.
At their autumn 2013 general meeting, the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference expressed gratitude for parliamentarians like Matthews who had opposed the legislation "at great political risk to themselves."
Matthews said the Fine Gael leadership had informed him that his opposition to the abortion legislation had injured his standing in the political party permanently.
Said Matthews about his resignation, "Unfortunately, I have been placed in a position by the leadership of the party that has led me to this decision."
Tom O’Gorman writes from Dublin.
He is a researcher with the Iona Institute.