The Secularisation of a Catholic Institution: A Contemporary Parable

FAITH Magazine March - April 2008

Extracts from the January Press Release from the Restitua Group “Campaigning to restore the Hospital of St John & St Elizabeth to Catholicity”. Secretary - Nicolas Bellord

 January 14th 2008 was certainly a black & shameful day for the Hospital of St John & St Elizabeth with the St John’s Wood Medical Practice aggressively moving in to provide referrals for abortion and the full range of family planning services...


 For the November 7th 2007 Board Meeting Lord Bridgeman, the architect of these developments, put forward three proposals:

 1. Secularisation of the Hospital’s constitution by removal of the “ethics clause” from the Hospital constitution. Or

 2. Sale of the Hospital of which a “Management Buyout” was a possible option or

 3. Approve the revised Code of Ethics and face economic dissolution.

 In the event the Board voted in favour of accepting the revised Code of Ethics – 5 in favour, 3 against with 2 abstentions. ...the revised Code of Ethics was adopted but not “just yet” and there was no mention of the entry of the St John’s Wood Medical Practice (SJWMP).

 In the Press this was hailed as “ Catholic hospital orders ban on abortion referrals” (Daily Telegraph), (etc. etc) ... and finally in the Catholic Herald a leader appeared entitled “ A Catholic hospital is saved” which went on to say “But the fact remains that, at last, an important Catholic institution in this country has managed to resist the pressure of secularisation – thanks, in part, to the leadership of the Cardinal”.

 ...We were told that members of the Order of Malta who had opposed the secularisation of the hospital regarded this as a satisfactory outcome and had plans for the future of the Hospital now that a majority appeared to be in favour of Catholicity.

 But all this was a cruel deception.


 On December 12th the Board met again and decided to go ahead with the admission of the SJWMP and to sign the sub-lease so that they were able to start in the Hospital on January 14th 2008. This decision was kept secret...

 ...We were later to discover that the SJWMP registered the agreement for the sub-lease (signed a year previously) with the Land Registry on that same 12th December...

 We immediately (Monday 31st December 2007) contacted the Charity Commission ... and on 3rd January 2008 they told us that they were opening an inquiry under section 8 of the Charities Act 1993 ... into both the SS John and Elizabeth Charity and the Brampton Trust...

 Quite what the Charity Commission will do we do not know and we can only speculate. Our understanding is that previously they had told both the Brampton Trustees and the Hospital that the proposed sub-lease to the SJWMP with the clause exempting them from the Code of Ethics was a breach of trust and that they must either renegotiate the lease or apply to the Charity Commission for an order removing the Ethics clause from the Hospital Constitution and allowing the Brampton Trustees to use their money for non-Catholic purposes. We know that attempts to renegotiate the lease were unsuccessful as the SJWMP were determined to be able to breach the Code of Ethics as they were under contract with their Primary Care Trust to do so. We further assume that no application has been made to theCharity Commission to vary the constitutions of the two Charities in this way and therefore in signing the sub-lease both Charities were deliberately flouting what the Charity Commission had told them to do – hence the very serious step of announcing an inquiry.

 We are astonished at all this; we are particularly astonished at Charles Fitzherbert, a Brampton Trustee, stepping up to be Chairman of the Hospital and allowing these very serious breaches of Trust...


 Just how has this appalling situation arisen? We now have a situation where a Catholic hospital will be seen as condoning referrals for abortion and approving the full range of family planning services including abortifacients such as the morning-after pill. If Government proposals have their way we may yet see abortions being carried out on the premises. The Catholic Church will be seen as saying one thing and doing another in not only allowing this but also allowing Catholic money to be used to finance it. A charge of hypocrisy may well arise but more damaging is the scandal created in suggesting that the teachings of the Church can be quietly ignored when it comes to the crunch.

 It is more than four years since the Linacre Centre followed by others and ourselves raised the unacceptability of having such a practice within the precincts of the Hospital. Why did those who had the power and the responsibility to stop this do nothing either in time or effectively despite being pleaded with over and over again to act as prescribed by the law? Once again unlawful behaviour has not been reported in a timely manner to the civil authorities – in this case the Charity Commission – who could have taken action to stop it...

 To take just one example: the Board took an unlawful decision to admit the SJWMP on 12th December 2007. Why did not somebody make this public? There is no confidence in iniquity. If we had been able to tell the Charity Commission on 13th December 2007 about this decision they might well have been able to stop the signing of the sub-lease.

 Where have the Order of Malta been on all this as protectors of the Hospital since its foundation? They always said, “We will follow the Cardinal’s instructions”...

 Lastly a united front against these developments would have been helpful.

 The press release goes on to make constructive suggestions concerning maintaining and developing the Catholicity of the hospital proper.  

Faith Magazine