By Hilary White

  LONDON, February 22, 2008 ( – After three years of investigations and disputes, Cormac Cardinal Murphy O’Connor has asked the entire board of directors of a London Catholic hospital to resign in order to facilitate the implementation of a Catholic ethics code that would preclude abortion referrals, IVF and contraception.

  A spokesman for the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, who is patron of the hospital and the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, is quoted by the Guardian saying, “In light of recent difficulties and challenges the cardinal asked the board to resign their office.”

  An investigation into the practices of the fashionable private hospital in St. John’s Wood was launched in 2006, after complaints came from the Vatican that the hospital was dispensing chemical contraceptives and referring for abortions. Later it was also revealed that the hospital had allowed phalloplasties, a woman-to-man “sex-change operation”.

  After nearly two years of disputes with the hospital’s board, Cardinal Murphy O’Connor, the hospital’s arbiter on ethics, imposed a new ethics code and appointed an auxiliary bishop of Westminster archdiocese to oversee implementation. At this, a number of the Catholic hospital’s board members resigned, accusing the cardinal of promoting Catholic “values”, which they held to be in conflict with patient care.

  The hospital is also under investigation by the government’s Charity Commission for failing to disclose vital information surrounding an £11 million loan to open an NHS primary care centre on its premises. Money to refurbish the property, a former convent, was approved by the government’s Charity Commission, but the agency was not informed that a clause in the lease allowed doctors to opt out of the hospital’s own ethics code.

  The cardinal’s office said the removal of the previous board was “to enable a new chairman to begin his office with the freedom to go about ensuring the future wellbeing of this Catholic hospital”.

  Charles Baron Guthrie of Craigiebank has been appointed in that position. Lord Guthrie is a former Chief of the Defence Staff of the British Army, and is Vice President and Knight of Sovereign Military Order of Malta, an ancient Catholic military order that now focuses on medical charity work around the world. The Order has its London headquarters, including an ornate and historic chapel, at the hospital.

  As a member of the House of Lords, Baron Guthrie has spoken against the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill in 2005, saying that it is the failure of the medical community to improve pain relief and appropriate care of the dying that has generated a demand for euthanasia.

  But the Restituta Group, an organisation that has been working to restore the Catholic ethos to the hospital, told that the move by the Cardinal to remove the board is “baffling”.

  Nicolas J. Bellord, secretary to the group, said the problems in the board and the hospital’s Catholicity were being resolved and that the situation was improving.

“I’m totally baffled,” Mr. Bellord said, “The board seemed to be getting on top of the problem. They seemed to have achieved a great deal. They were getting back towards Catholicity, they started on that way and now they’ve being asked to resign.”

  Bellord pointed out that technically, the Cardinal has no legal power to remove the board.

  The hospital said it would not be commenting further on the resignations. Deputy chief executive, Claire Hornick, said “Lord Guthrie, supported by Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, has stated that under his chairmanship there is no desire that the hospital be sold and that the committed plan remains to continue the objects of the charity, which, guided by its Catholic ethos, is to serve the local community.”

  Read related coverage:

  London Catholic Hospital Fighting Cardinal for Right to Continue Abortion Referrals

  London Catholic Hospital Board Under Investigation from Charities Commission

  London Catholic Hospital Agreed to Lease That Would Overturn Cardinal’s Ethics Code