On behalf of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC), Archbishop Peter A Comensoli has made a written submission to a Senate inquiry into the recent forcible acquisition of Calvary Hospital by the ACT government.

Calling the takeover a ‘worrying precedent for civil society groups’, he criticised the ‘poor and unprecedented process’ used by the Barr government to take over the Catholic hospital in Bruce, in Canberra’s north. He also wondered if Calvary Hospital had been singled out as ‘intensely problematic’ because of disapproval of its ‘Catholic ethos and mission,’ which includes a reluctance to offer abortion and an opposition to voluntary assisted dying.

Having pushed the compulsory acquisition legislation through the Legislative Assembly in May, the ACT government took over the hospital site on 3 July.

‘There is an underlying implication that religious organisations and those with conscientious objections to performing certain procedures should not participate in public healthcare,’ Archbishop Comensoli said in the ACBC submission. ‘The religious mission expressed at Calvary Hospital was inconvenient for the territory government.

An inquiry should consider the extent to which the ACT government’s decision was influenced by its disapproval of Calvary Hospital’s Catholic ethos and mission.

He also noted with concern that only a few weeks before the acquisition was announced, an ACT inquiry into abortion in the territory had ‘criticised the faith-based ethos of Calvary Hospital’.

‘Although the territory-run Canberra Hospital does not generally provide abortions,’ he observed, ‘Calvary Hospital alone was singled out as “intensely problematic” for being a public hospital that did not provide the procedure.” He added that both Calvary Hospital and its connected palliative care facility, Clare Holland House, had previously stated they would not provide voluntary assisted dying.

‘The forcible acquisition of Calvary Hospital marks the first time in Australian history where a federal, state or territory government has forcibly taken over an institution of the Catholic Church,’ he said.

‘It is also perplexing why Calvary Hospital has been singled out from among Canberra’s healthcare providers when, for many years, concerns have surrounded the capacity of the ACT government to manage the hospital system effectively,’ he said, noting that both ‘Canberra Hospital and CHS have experienced repeated criticism … or difficult workplace culture and ongoing industrial disputes.’

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has said in his submission to the inquiry that the decision to acquire Calvary Hospital came about after ‘a lengthy policy process and consideration’, with the aim of delivering a more ‘efficient and effective health system for Canberrans’.

Banner image: Calvary Hospital, Canberra, before its takeover by the ACT government on 3 July. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons.)