Catholic charity rapped over NHS contraception case

By staff writers
January 6, 2009

The Charity Commission in England and Wales has criticised a Catholic hospital charity for the way it dealt with the consequences of its decision to sub-let part of its premises to doctors prescribing contraceptives.

The criticisms have been published in Third Sector magazine (, the leading journal of the not-for-profit sector.

The St John and St Elizabeth Charity, a 153-year-old body whose 520 staff operate a hospital in London's St John's Wood, planned to allow GPs to set up the NHS practice on their premises - a move welcome by community health advocates.

But Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the spiritual leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales, together with other complainants, expressed concerns about the GPs' work being contrary to Catholic teaching.

The Commission launched an inquiry and initially blocked the opening of the practice because it breached a requirement in the charity's governing document.

The commission eventually agreed to let the practice open in January 2007.

Ten board members either resigned in protest or were not reappointed in a six-month period during the investigation.

The commission decided to open the inquiry after discovering "serious governance issues", including a lack of cooperation from trustees in responding to its concerns. "The inquiry was disappointed with the way the hospital board engaged with it, given the serious nature of the issues," the report says.

In September 2008, the board adopted an action plan, which commits it to producing a new code of ethics and a revised business plan.

Ironically, because of issues of governance and specification in the charity laws, the role of the Commission was not to argue for inclusion or the needs of patients, but effectively to support the contraception ban because of the terms of the charity and to oppose community health needs and those supporting them.

Catholic teaching says that contraception is wrong because it is a denial of the gift of life. Other Christian traditions and denominations disagree.

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