A group of lay Catholics have called on the Archbishop of Armagh to block the transfer of the St. Vincent’s Hospital campus due to the new board’s stated intention to allow abortions in a new National Maternity Hospital.

The Sisters of Charity had received permission from the Vatican, reportedly with the support of Archbishop Eamon Martin, to proceed with the transfer of their shareholdings in St. Vincent’s Healthcare Group to St. Vincent’s Holdings, despite being aware that abortions, gender reassignment surgeries and sterilizations would occur on the campus.

Catholic leaders had been advised by Professor of Moral Theology Fr Kevin O’Reilly as early as 2017 to veto an arrangement he said “would destroy innocent life”.

In an email sent to Archbishop Martin and the bishop of Derry Donal McKeown this week, the Catholic Association, a lay-led group, has doubled down on objections to the transfer, saying it would be “profoundly wrong” for the nuns and bishops to cooperate with the deal.

“This analysis remains the same even if the landowners were voluntarily to consent to the outright sale of the site to the state for the purposes of building the NMH, since it is clear that a core part of the services to be provided on the land will be for the provision of abortions,” they claim in the email.

“There is a clear onus on the Religious Sisters of Charity (and any other religious bodies who play any role in this process) to take whatever measures that are within their power to prevent land owned by a Catholic body from being used or sold for purposes contrary to Catholic teaching, including (but not limited to) abortion.

“In the specific case, this would involve refusing both to grant a lease of land to the state where it is known that abortions would take place on the site, and to agreeing voluntarily to the sale of that land in such circumstances.”

The Catholic Association also claim that constitutional rights, such freedom of religion, are threatened in the “pressure currently being applied to the Religious Sisters of Charity to act in a manner that would effectively facilitate acts contrary to both Catholic teaching and Natural Law.”

“An essential part of religious freedom is the right to participate in arrangements that do not violate one’s religious convictions, and also the freedom to refuse to take part in arrangements that are contrary to those convictions,” the statement reads.

A June 2021 Briefing Paper by St. Vincent’s Holdings shows the company is yet to receive ownership of the Sisters’ shareholdings, making a change of mind by the sisters, or an intervention by the bishops and Vatican to halt the transfer, a theoretical possibility.

Secular critics of the National Maternity Hospital plan say relocating the building to a site in Tallaght would guarantee its independence, despite reassurances from government ministers and St. Vincent’s Holdings that there will be no influence from the Sisters of Charity in its decision-making.