Thursday, February 21, 2008

Scrubbing the Board

After years of concerns over doctrinally-unsound practices at an archdiocesan hospital, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor of Westminster has sacked the facility's entire board of directors:
Murphy-O'Connor, head of the Catholic church in England and Wales, intervened in the affairs of the hospital of St John & St Elizabeth in London, where he is patron, after protracted rows over the adoption of a tighter ethical code banning non-Catholic practices such as abortions, contraception and sex-change operations.

Scalps from Tuesday evening's decision include Aida Hersham, a Persian heiress and socialite, and Jacob Rees-Mogg, son of former Times editor William Rees-Mogg.

The cardinal's office confirmed the appointment of a new chairman, Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank. The former army chief of staff will select new directors, who will meet on Monday. A spokesman for the cardinal said: "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."

The hospital's deputy chief executive, Claire Hornick, said in a press statement that there was no intention to issue further details about the resignations. It also aimed to allay fears about the future of the hospital: "Lord Guthrie, supported by Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, has stated that under his chairmanship there is no desire that the hospital be sold and that the committed plan remains to continue the objects of the charity, which, guided by its Catholic ethos, is to serve the local community."...

The GP practice, which has 9,000 patients, has scandalised staunch Catholics, who believe its activities undermine the religious ethos of the hospital....

The cardinal's primary objective has always been for St John & St Elizabeth to remain a Catholic hospital and several issues were jeopardising that aim, including GPs prescribing the morning-after pill and referring patients for abortions.

In 2005 he wrote to the then chairman, Lord Bridgman, and said: "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 Right Rev George Stack, an auxiliary bishop of Westminster, was appointed to the hospital's ethics committee to ensure Catholic teaching was upheld in the new code. Its introduction, however, led to a boardroom revolt in December, with two directors resigning in protest, arguing that the cardinal placed Catholic values above patient care. Bridgman stepped down a week later.
PHOTO: Getty Images