By Matthew Cullinan Hoffman

  WESTMINSTER, October 9, 2007 ( – Cardinal Cormac Murphy-OConnor, Britain’s highest Catholic official, is standing firm in his refusal to allow a famous Catholic hospital to make abortion referrals or provide contraceptives.

  St. John’s and St. Elizabeth’s hospital which has been operated under Church auspices since its founding in 1858, is now a favorite of pregnant celebrities, including movie stars Cate Blanchett and Emma Thompson and models Kate Moss and Heather Mills.  It is the third largest independent hospital in the United Kingdom.

  An investigation by the diocese of Westminster, undertaken recently to examine a proposed extension for the hospital to provide government-sponsored care, revealed that doctors were already violating the Catholic Church’s teachings on abortion and birth control.  The new wing of the hospital could create even more such cases by allowing general practitioners to provide government-subsidized health care, which includes “family planning” services.

  The Cardinal has responded by insisting that the hospital rewrite its code of ethics to exclude such practices, as well as analysis to determine fetal deformities for the purpose of allowing people to abort their handicapped children.  He has also insisted that the hospital provide for effective monitoring and enforcement for the code.

  Murphy-O’Connor has been explicit about the consequences if the hospital refuses to act. “If it came to crunch I would say this is no longer a Catholic hospital but I won’t want to do that. I want it to be a pro-life hospital,” he said in a recent interview.

“I do think it is important for me to get it right. It seems to me that what is being asked is not unreasonable or not impossible to fulfil,” he said.

  In a letter to the hospital, the Cardinal has made it clear that as a Catholic institution it must reflect the values of the Church. “In fairness to healthcare professionals, patients, and benefactors,” he wrote, “there must be clarity that the hospital, being a Catholic hospital with a distinct vision of what is truly in the interests of human persons, cannot offer its patients, non-Catholic or Catholic, the whole range of services routinely accepted by many in modern secular society as being in a patient’s best interest.”

  According to media reports, Murphy-O’Connor made his stand after discussing the issue with Pope Benedict XVI in 2005.

  The hospital, which has resisted the changes, is scheduled to decide the matter at an upcoming board meeting.