A RECENT report on Catholicism and Irish hospitals, commissioned by the Great Leader of Progressive Mankind, Taoiseach Vlad, contained recommendations that were grist to the mill for a new class of Fine Gael stalwarts, namely Ireland’s exponentially expanding mass of Secular Trendies.
The untitled report went straight for the jugular in its assault and battery of the Catholic Church’s ownership of seven voluntary hospitals and another five that have an input from religious orders.
The twelve Catholic hospitals are in receipt of €1.3 billion State cash and, from a Trendy’s viewpoint, financial support of that kind is a deviation from what is politically right and proper. Consequently, the argument goes, changes need to be made in the State funding of the medical services that are provided by religious organisations.
Vlad agrees. Besides, opposition to the influence of Catholicism in social and political matters for some time has been part and parcel of Fine Gael’s slim collection of economic ideas and theories. Let’s not forget that Vlad’s predecessor, Dame Enda, became so bored during an audience with the Pope that he resorted to fiddling with his mobile phone.
Or that in the wake of the Cloyne Report, Taoiseach Kenny famously announced that his party would not be intimidated by ‘the swish of a soutane or the swing of a thurible’ – a comment that came direct from the lexicon of a well-known Indo-Sindo scoffer.
Fine Gael gone bats?
Indeed, there’s nothing new in the current brouhaha between Church and Blueshirts. It’s an ongoing process that has contributed massively to the perception that Fine Gael has gone bats on anti-clericalism.
But to return to the report’s main conclusions. In light of the fact that the Religious are responsible for managing 26% of publicly funded inpatient beds, a major overhaul of the structures governing the charities providing health services is needed.
Nothing too controversial in that!
Then, there was this: The introduction of abortion raises questions over whether the State should give funding to hospitals refusing to provide the ‘full range of lawful services.’ And, the report added: ‘Clarity on the constitutional rights of independently owned faith-based organisations to manage their own affairs has not yet been determined in the healthcare context by the Supreme Court.’ Yep, that sounds serious.
The report also acknowledged that it was the State’s right not to fund Church-run health organisations but admitted that to cut financial support would cause serious and prolonged disruption to health services. Importantly, the report also said that such a decision was a political one rather than a legal one.
But it was the following statement that delighted the Trendies: Voluntary organisations in charge of hospitals and in receipt of State funding should be cognisant of the impact of religious décor on patients. Décor???
Décor was taken to mean religious symbols, crucifixes, logos and holy pictures. Importantly, the report recommended that patients should have the right to demand the removal from hospital wards of such items.
If we’re interpreting the report correctly, it’s implying that a serious risk to health could take place should the patient theoretically fall into the category of Atheist, Agnostic, Heathen, Infidel, Freethinker, Sceptic, crypto-Calvinist, Druid, Jansenist, Mohammedan, Rastafarian, Rosicrucian, Scientologist, Satanist, etc, etc. and was exposed to a combination of décor’ (such as a traditional image of the Sacred Heart) and the Catholic ethos (whatever that is).
Worse still, the patient might have to confront a manifestation of horror that could seriously affect medical care at a vulnerable time!
Bizarrely, we were reminded of Oscar Wilde for whom décor played a major role during the last hours of his life. In a fleapit hotel in Paris, he took a look at his surroundings and commented: ‘My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or other of us has to go.’
Vlad, to his credit, was sensitive to the outlandish possibility of patients demanding a change of décor before descending to the operating theatre for a heart transplant. So he took what he always takes in controversial circumstances – a linguistic cop-out.
‘The government has no plans to force religious-owned hospitals to remove crosses or other religious symbols,’ he said before adding that publicly-funded institutions needed to recognise ‘that not everyone was religious or Catholic, and should reflect the beliefs of all the public.’ Which raised the question as to whether Vlad was uttering gobbledegook in the manner of Don Berto?
He then went on TV to remind the nation that ‘organisations’ must bear in mind that, in modern Ireland, a diversity of views existed about religion. However, he wasn’t in favour of removing crucifixes or statues of Our Lady. ‘That’s not what’s going to happen.’
Instead he wanted the ‘charities and voluntary organisations that run hospitals and schools to have regard to these things’; and he continued: ‘the ethos of an institution that’s publicly funded should reflect the public, not just any one section of the public.’
All of which leaves us with the question as to why he commissioned (at considerable public expense) a report that examined the relationship between the State and Catholic-run hospitals? Was it intended to be a shot across the bow of the Christian churches, warning them that a ‘godless’ Fine Gael was coming for them?
Or could it be that Fine Gael has initiated a long term strategy to get the State’s claws on the Church’s property assets – said to be worth almost €4billion?
A new Puritanism?
At this point, who knows? But the eagerness with which Fine Gael is focussing on Christian -run hospitals is unique in recent Irish history. Outside of UCC’s ‘Philosoph’ on a Saturday night, we’re never before experienced its likes and one has to look to the anti-clericalism of the Spanish Civil War or the Mexican Revolution for parallels.
And while Vlad’s argument that religion must be kept within the bounds of one’s private life makes sense, the demand to put restrictions on the way religious hospitals are run certainly points to a selective and unpleasant anti-clericalism operating within his party.
In fact Fine Gael’s bashing of the Catholic Church, inevitably, will offend that tranche of libertarian Fine Gaelers, small and all as it is, who put stock in the ‘live-and-let-live’ approach to religion, the maximisation of religious freedom, freedom of choice and individual judgement.
But, sadly, on the basis of what’s happening now, the party’s anti-clericalism comes across as nothing more than a form of self-righteous intolerance and Cromwellian-style puritanism!