The Catholic hospital chaplain Fr Patrick Pullicino was fired after expressing his views on same-sex marriage. After winning compensation from an NHS trust, he believes Christians must pray and campaign for their freedoms to be respected
Prior to becoming a chaplain, I had worked in the NHS for 20 years as a consultant and professor of clinical neuroscience. After I retired, I felt a call to the priesthood and, by the grace of God, was ordained in 2019.
I was assigned to Springfield University Hospital, part of the South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust, as a part time chaplain, working two afternoons a week. Patients immediately started asking for Confession, and I set up a weekly Communion service. I also started to say Masses in the chaplaincy and established a Bible study group on a ward.
My case demonstrates that our religious beliefs, especially in relation to marriage, sexuality and gender, are under concerted attack
I quickly saw how needy and uninhibitedly trusting many of the patients were. Often, they had been admitted compulsorily and felt this was in error. Not surprisingly, some resented being in the hospital and often, they lacked insight into why they were there. A psychiatric ward can be a disorientating place.
There are patients with different conditions in the same ward so, in addition to understanding their own illness, they are in an environment where other people may behave unconventionally. Patients are locked in, and have limited access to the consultant, whom they may only see weekly. Although it was not an easy environment, I warmed to my chaplaincy role as I saw how much need there was and how rewarding it was to help - even a little.
A Catholic point of view
After working there for only four months, I was told that a Catholic patient wanted advice from a Catholic priest. He asked if we could walk outside, and a member of staff accompanied us. We discussed his situation on the ward and his family. He said he wanted to marry his male partner and asked what I thought of this.
In response, I asked him what he thought God would think about this. He also said his father was upset about his lifestyle. I said I probably would be, too, if I were in his father’s situation, and encouraged him to speak further with him. He mentioned his mother, to whom he was close. After about 20 minutes, he ended the session without appearing upset.
I never saw him again, but he complained to the hospital that I told him that he was “going to hell” and that he “should not be with his partner”, which I had not. The acting chief executive for the NHS trust sent the patient a letter apologising to him for my “comments”. She said she would ensure I was made to “understand that Trust policy on Equality and Diversity takes precedence over religious beliefs”.
Hierarchy of rights
Three months later, with no warning, I was told to hand in my ID badge as the trust was no longer able to pay my salary. I offered to work without one, but this was refused. I was almost certainly fired because of the complaints of this patient, but I had difficulty believing that there was not something else behind the action.
The chief executive’s claim was an egregious one. To see, written down in black and white, that my deeply held beliefs, taught for thousands of years across the worldwide Church, could be superseded by NHS policy, was shocking. It is also against UK law. But this appeared to be the CEO’s belief and, presumably, reflected the official stance of the trust.
I began to wonder whether their position had anything to do with the hospital’s showcasing of its Stonewall LGBT ranking on its website and, more recently, proudly announcing that they had been awarded Stonewall’s silver workplace equality award in 2022.
In order to challenge the CEO’s statement, I was forced to bring legal action against the trust. I felt that this situation had been given to me by our Lord to act upon. Thankfully, the trust capitulated, and awarded me £10,000 in compensation - although I asked for an apology and to be reinstated, not for money.
To see that my deeply held beliefs were not considered on a par with an NHS policy was shocking
I was told that a tribunal cannot force my reinstatement, and that the payment would act as a deterrent against other NHS trusts treating others in the same way in the future. The CEO did not apologise, but she did agree that her letter should have been “phrased differently”.
My case demonstrates that our religious beliefs, especially in relation to marriage, sexuality and gender, are under concerted attack. Please pray for the hospital chaplaincy service, that a government enquiry is opened to restore it to its rightful place.
These are public institutions that we may all require the services of at some point in our lives. And please pray for our society, that traditional, Christian beliefs are respected - particularly in our institutions.
And if you find yourself in a similar situation, please do not hesitate in reaching out to an organisation such as Christian Concern for help. The law is still on our side.