Catholic chaplain, the Rev. Dr. Patrick Pullicino, has been awarded $12,000 in compensation by a London National Health Service Trust after being removed from his role for discussing the Church’s teachings on marriage with a patient.
The settlement comes after a claim of harassment, religious discrimination and victimization against Pullicino, who's also a former professor of neurosciences. His case was represented by the U.K.-based group Christian Legal Centre, a division of Christian Concern.
The case began when Pullicino, 73, who had an illustrious career as a consultant neurologist before becoming a Catholic priest in 2016, was assigned to visit a male psychiatric patient at Springfield Hospital who requested a Catholic chaplain, Christian Concern said in a statement, explaining that the patient’s father was upset with his son’s same-sex relationship.
During their conversation in August 2019, the patient asked Pullicino about the Catholic Church’s stance on marriage.
According to Christian Concern, "At no point did Rev. Pullicino condemn the patient or chastise him for his relationship. In fact, he expressed empathy and compassion because the patient’s father was at odds with him over the relationship." However, the chaplain responded by encouraging the patient to consider God’s perspective on the matter and urged him to understand his father’s point of view. As a result, the patient complained to the Trust, and a probe was initiated to investigate Pullicino’s actions and he was barred from re-entering the building.
In response to the complaint, Vanessa Ford, the acting chief executive of South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust, said the Trust’s policy on Equality and Diversity “takes precedence over religious belief.” But Ford later admitted that her letter should have been “phrased differently” and reassured Pullicino that there was no suggestion he had told the patient he would go to Hell.
Months later, the Trust informed Pullicino that he was being dismissed, citing “budgetary constraints” as the reason.
The case was scheduled for a hearing in July at the Croydon Employment Tribunal but was settled after Pullicino’s story gained attention in both U.K. and U.S. media. The compensation awarded to Pullicino falls within the middle band of Vento guidelines for “serious” cases of discrimination, Christian Concern said.
Pullicino expressed relief at the outcome but called for a government inquiry into what he described as a “disturbing approach” to the expression of Christian beliefs within the NHS. He added that the downgrading of Christian belief undermines patients’ care and chaplains of different faiths.
“The documented downgrading of Christian belief by the chief executive undermines not only her NHS Trust but also all the patients under her care as well as the chaplains of different faiths that she employs,” he was quoted as saying.
“There is a tendency throughout the NHS to force their patients to accept generic ‘spiritual’ care instead of giving support for their Christian beliefs. Christian faith is particularly important in sickness, particularly when in danger of death.
“Limiting this is inhumane, in addition to being outside the law. Good, religion-specific chaplaincy support is under threat in the NHS but is essential in all hospitals. A government inquiry is urgently needed into restoring hospital chaplaincy to its rightful place.”
Christian Legal Centre’s Chief Executive Andrea Williams called for an end to the “ideology of equality and diversity riding roughshod over the Christian faith.” She also pointed to a trend in which NHS chaplains face punishment for expressing standard biblical teachings on human sexuality, leading to self-censorship and a diminished role for chaplains in public institutions.