“The Minister for Health has said there must be “no question of religious interference” with the new National Maternity Hospital.  Simon Harris made the statement after a protest was held outside the Department of Health in Dublin over the ownership of the new hospital, which is to be built on the campus of St Vincent’s Hospital.” [RTENews, Thursday, 20 Apr 2017]

Surely this is a sad reflection of the absence of an educated and calm discussion about the place of faith in contemporary Ireland and the related role of religious communities. Yet again, when the role of a religious community of sisters is being skewed and distorted in the media, there is a wall of silence from the Religious Sisters of Charity themselves. Ironically, the most recent news update of their website is dated May 16, 2016. (The St. Vincent’s Healthcare Group has also chosen to not make any reference to the issue until today. And no it looks as if the ‘deal’ is dead.) It’s a pity that a congregation with apparent resources isn’t investing more in its mission to communicate!

We have arrived at a curious juncture in Irish society in this respect. There are loud voices — mostly with a thinly veiled anti-Catholic sentiment — objecting to any role by the Catholic Church or its communities in health care “because of their history” in being involved in running ‘homes’ for abandoned young women and their children and for their role in managing industrial schools in the past. But only some history is being recalled and recycled.  It has been accepted by successive governments and taoisigh, by tribunals of inquiry and by countless reports — including the report of The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse which was established in 2000 — that the state and, particularly, the Department of Education of the day were notoriously negligent in their duty to care for vulnerable citizens. “The system of inspection by the Department of Education was fundamentally flawed and incapable of being effective.” [– one of the conclusions of The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse.] There is more than enough blame to go around, it seems.

If the logic of the protesters is to be accepted, then the Government and its departments should not be allowed to have any hand, act or part in the development of a “modern maternity hospital” and there should be no stone left unturned to ensure that there is no question of government or political interference!

And on the broader canvas, the same selective attention continues. There is no public outcry when Sr Stan works tirelessly to provide shelter for today’s vulnerable who are cast aside nor people saying that someone else should be doing it. There is no one looking to remove Brother Kevin Crowley from his position at the Capuchin Day Centre nor advocating that this soup should be cooked instead on the yachts of Howth or Dun Laoghaire harbour. Neither is there a hue and cry to remove religious sisters from their pastoral role in some of the poorer and neglected parishes of our cities as they provide care and humane concern to the unemployed and neglected families in today’s Ireland — and that their unpaid long hours should be provided by agents of the state and out of “taxpayers funds”. It seems acceptable that Fr Peter McVerry’s sterling work with marginalised young people should need to go on even if he is a priest, a man of faith, and fulfilling a role which taxpayers funds should also be doing if we were to be consistent. And this is the tip of the iceberg of ‘religious interference’, Minister!

Because true religion is called to ‘interfere’, to discommode, and to challenge.