From top: The Religious Sisters of Charity are to transfer ownership of St Vincent’s Healthcare Group; Dr Peter Boylan
April Duff raises valid questions regarding St Vincent’s Holdings CLG (company limited by guarantee), the company into which the Religious Sisters of Charity (RSC) have received Vatican permission to transfer their 100 per cent shareholding in the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG).
In particular she asks if the public can be sure that the news “will remove any remaining concerns about religious influence” on the planned new National Maternity Hospital, as the Minister for Health stated last week.
I believe serious concerns remain, and must be addressed transparently and immediately.
The statement by Sr Patricia Lenihan, the superior general of the RSC, on May 8th that the congregation “is confident that the SVHG board, management and staff will continue to provide acute healthcare services that foster Mary Aikenhead’s [the founder of the order] mission and core values” strongly suggests that a Catholic ethos will be maintained in St Vincent’s Holdings CLG.
Over the last 25 years or so, as the numbers of religious in Catholic congregations worldwide have declined, it has become common for their assets to be transferred into Vatican-approved charities, with lay boards of directors. These structures are known as public juridic persons of pontifical right.
They are derived as a mechanism of canon law, but recognised in civil law. Sr Lenihan’s statement quoted above sums up precisely the function and responsibilities of a public juridic person.
There are numerous examples in North America and Australia, and increasingly in Ireland, Asia and Africa.
In recent years we have seen the transfer to public juridic persons of the Mater Hospital group (2016), the Mercy Hospital in Cork (2016), the Bon Secours group (2017), and St John of God’s (2019). The holding companies of all these organisations are established under Irish company law.
At the same time, they are absolutely transparent on their websites that they are part of the healthcare ministry of the Catholic Church. They are equally open that their hospitals do not provide services such as elective sterilisation, abortion, or IVF.
The problem with St Vincent’s Holdings CLG is that, as SVHG’s most recent annual report states, it intends to own the planned new National Maternity 100 per cent.
Yet I cannot find a single example anywhere in the world where the Vatican has approved the transfer of assets of a Catholic congregation to a company that will own a hospital providing women’s healthcare services absolutely prohibited by Catholic teaching.
To believe that the Irish Sisters of Charity will be unique in this respect stretches my credulity to breaking point.
Unless it is proved beyond doubt that St Vincent’s Holdings is not a public juridic person (or similar vehicle), can the Minister of Health and his officials really be certain that no concerns remain about Catholic ethos on the Elm Park campus?
Have the members of the boards of both hospitals, appointed for their legal, professional and commercial expertise, made themselves fully aware of all issues pertaining to the civil and canonical transfer of assets of Catholic healthcare organisations and the obligations that ensue?
An estimated €100 million has already been spent on professional fees, preparatory works and the construction of a pharmacy and car park at Elm Park. It is now essential that the Religious Sisters of Charity publish both the relevant correspondence with the Vatican as well as the full memorandum and articles of association of St Vincent’s Holdings CLG so that the public can see exactly what has been agreed. Unverified assurances are no substitute for documentary evidence.
The whole saga has the makings of a very Irish scandal.
Dr Peter Boylan,
(Life Governor and Former Master,
National Maternity Hospital),