The government is forcibly taking control of the second largest health care facility in Canberra. The real reason is ideology.
by Massimo Introvigne
Calvary Hospital is the second largest hospital in Australia’s capital city Canberra. It belongs to a Catholic congregation, the Blue Sisters, also known as the Little Company of Mary. There is no question it is a leading hospital, which won awards for its oncology and cancer prevention programs. It receives contributions from the government, which is not however its only source of funds.
On July 3, the Australia Capital Territory (ACT) government plans to take possession of Calvary Hospital, following legislation enacted by the Territory’s Legislative Assembly on May 31, and the refusal by the ACT Supreme Court on June 3 to grant a temporary injunction preventing the government from enforcing the law.
The ACT government, which is supported by the main local media, claims the northern part of Canberra, where Calvary is situated, needs a larger hospital. It plans to invest Australian $1 billion to redevelop Calvary as a brand-new healthcare campus.
Except the story the ACT government tells is, at best, part of the truth. It is true that the government had tried to acquire the hospital in the previous decade and the deal was vetoed by the Vatican. But the matter had been, if not forgotten, put to rest long ago.
Everything changed on June 24, 2022, because of something that happened not in Canberra but in another capital city, Washington DC. That day, the Supreme Court of the United States, in “Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women’s Health Organization,” overturned the 1973 decision “Roe v. Wade” and concluded that there is no constitutional right to abortion in the U.S.
Australia is a deeply secular country where religion is unpopular with most of the population, the more so after the scandals of pedophile Catholic priests. The U.S. Supreme Court decision generated a larger wave of protests than elsewhere. The ACT, according to polls, has the largest proportion of irreligious and anti-religious citizens in Australia.
One of the results of the emotion after the overturing of “Roe v. Wade” in the U.S. was a widespread concern whether anti-abortion forces were somewhat at work to make abortion more difficult in Australia too. A Committee was set up in the ACT, and it focused its attention on Calvary Hospital. It released its report on April 18, 2023, and recommended the ACT government should “crack down” on the hospital for its refusal to provide abortion services.
The state legislature acted very quickly and in less than 45 days passed legislation allowing the ACT government to seize the hospital. Despite calls from the opposition, the Federal Government refused to intervene.
The Catholic Church is not alone in denouncing what, to use a plain language, can only be called stealing a Catholic hospital for ideological reasons. It has been joined by several other religious bodies and prominent legal experts.
It would be a pity if the discussion were framed as a pro-life vs. pro-choice one only. Clearly, Calvary Hospital is being punished, or stolen, because it does not provide abortion and is against assisted suicide. However, the principle established by the ACT law has much broader implications. It implies that private religious institutions providing services in the fields of health, education, and beyond may be confiscated by the state if they operate based on ethical values different from those of the majority.
Some Australian media have suggested that the Catholic Church is being punished for its past cover-ups of pedophile priests. These scandals were real and inexcusable. But stealing a hospital whose personnel has never been accused of any crime looks like a strange way to protest pedophilia.