NHS National Health Service sign UK. / TK Kurikawa/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Apr 4, 2023 / 11:54 am (CNA).

A Maltese Catholic priest who served as a chaplain in a London hospital received £10,000 in a settlement with the United Kingdom’s National Health Service after he alleged he was fired for expressing the Church’s teaching on homosexuality.

Father Patrick Pullicino, who is also a medical doctor, sued the London NHS Trust for harassment, religious discrimination, and victimization. The 73-year-old priest’s £10,000 settlement is equal to about $12,414.

“There is a tendency throughout the NHS to force their patients to accept generic ‘spiritual’ care instead of giving support for their Christian beliefs,” Pullicino said in a statement, according to a news release from the Christian Legal Centre, which represented him in court.

“Christian faith is particularly important in sickness, particularly when in danger of death,” Pullicino continued. “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.”

Although the NHS has denied the allegations, it awarded the settlement “for perceived injury to feelings.”

The issue began in September 2019 after Pullicino took part in a 20-minute conversation with a patient who specifically requested a Catholic chaplain, according to a news release. The patient, who was in a mental health ward, allegedly told Pullicino that he was in a same-sex relationship and expressed his intent to marry his partner. After the patient prompted the priest for his opinion, he asked the patient, “What do you think God would say to you about this?”

According to the news release, “the patient went on to say that his father had cut off from him and was at odds because he was upset by his way of life” and asked the priest for advice. It adds that the priest “said that in the same situation he might be upset too and that it was important to have the support of his family and encouraged him to see the situation from his father’s point of view.”

On the next day, the news release states that Pullicino was barred from entering the hospital because the patient had made a complaint against him. After a meeting with the head chaplain, he received an email, which stated “NHS policy on Equality and Diversity in relation to the complaint supersedes religious standing whilst working and representing the trust.” The NHS then launched a formal investigation into the complaint.

When Pullicino tried to return to work, the NHS informed him in an email that his correspondence showed “no evidence of your acceptance and reflection on the fact that your comments went against all our Trust values and behaviours.”

“Please record in writing that you accept that your comments went against Trust values and behaviours and have reflected on this in your supervision along with assurance that you have learnt from this incident,” the email said. He was told, “only when I have assurance that such incidents will not reoccur can we look at you visiting wards again.”

In December 2019, the head chaplain asked Pullicino to turn in his badge. He claimed the reason was “budgetary constraints” and that they were unable to pay him after Jan. 15, 2020. When the priest offered to work for free his offer was declined in an email.

“Thank you for handing back your ID,” Pullicino was told. “As you are already aware the Temporary Staffing has removed you from the system and due this your IT access is not valid anymore. I need you to know that you are currently not authorised to visit the wards or saying mass [sic] as you are not currently under any terms and conditions or insurance. This will stand until and unless we have agreed in writing for you to have an on-going role in the Trust.”

Pullicino filed the suit based on his contention that the NHS fired him for religious reasons. The NHS has consistently held that he was released because of budgetary cuts, despite awarding him funds through a settlement.

Andrea Williams, the chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said in a statement that it is “time to see an end to the ideology of equality and diversity riding roughshod over the Christian faith and treating it with such little respect.”

“NHS chaplains risk punishment for responding to questions on human sexuality with standard biblical teaching,” Williams said. “They live under pressure to self-censor, affirm at all costs, or face the consequences. This has to change. We will continue to defend and contend to keep chaplains at the heart of our public institutions.”

According to the website of St. Bede’s Catholic Church in London, Pullicino has served as assistant priest to the parish. The website notes that he is the father of six adult children. After his wife died in 2006, the former neurologist decided to study for the priesthood and was ordained in 2019.

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