Northern Ireland

Massgoers filmed by charity collector for centre linked to leading anti-abortion organisation

St Patrick's Church on Donegall Street in Belfast
St Patrick's Church on Donegall Street in Belfast

Massgoers reported being filmed outside a church by individuals collecting for a health care charity with close links to the anti-abortion movement.

Supporters of Belfast-based Stanton Healthcare attempted to fundraise outside at least one Catholic church but it is believed others in Belfast over the weekend.

The collection outside St Patrick’s on Donegall Street happened without the permission of the diocese or the parish priest, though it is not required from any premises if the individuals are on a public footpath.

Two people were stationed on the pavement on either side of the gate to the church during and after masses.

The Irish News understands one of those collecting was holding a phone close to the chest and filming as funds were solicited following Mass on Sunday morning.

Stanton Healthcare attempted to fundraise outside churches in Belfast over the weekend
Stanton Healthcare attempted to fundraise outside churches in Belfast over the weekend

Stanton Heathcare, which is based on Great Victoria Street, is closely linked to Precious Life, a leading anti-abortion group. Bernadette Smyth, the head of Precious Life, is also the founder of Stanton and is named as the centre manager in documents filed with the Charities Commission.

The charity did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Precious Life was also asked for comment.

Among the trustees of Stanton is Dr Anne McCloskey, the former Derry Aontú councillor who was suspended as a doctor over her opposition to vaccines during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr Anne McCloskey
Dr Anne McCloskey Dr Anne McCloskey

In its weekly newsletter, St Patrick’s said “Stanton Health Care informed the parish that they were holding a collection outside St Patrick’s on the weekend of 17/18 February”.

“Stanton Healthcare did not ask permission nor authorisation to approach our parishioners seeking funds. The collection is being done without the consent of St Patrick’s Church.”

The parish added that it “fully supports Catholic teaching on the importance of human life at all stages from conception to natural death. We are a pro-life church.”

It continued: “We continue to pray for all who respectfully engage in pro-life education, the defence of human life and for individuals and families - particularly women - who find themselves with heart-rending decisions.”

Precious Life director Bernadette Smyth Picture by Hugh Rusell.
Precious Life founder Bernadette Smyth. Picture by Hugh Russell.

Stanton Healthcare describes itself as “a life-affirming centre in Belfast specialising in unexpected pregnancy care”. The centre says it provides services for women who are pregnant and in crisis and post-termination.

“Our aim is to ensure both women and their unborn babies are protected, supported and genuinely cared for with compassion,” the centre states.

Under fundraising regulations, anyone collecting are barred for acting “in any way that might reasonably cause members of the public to be or become startled or anxious”.