OK to cover cross, says Geraldton bishop

Covering a crucifix on the walls of a hospital ward does not reflect a drift to secularism or political correctness, says Bishop Justin Bianchini from Geraldton, WA, defending the practice of a local Catholic hospital to occasionally remove religious images at the request of non-Catholic patients.

"The fact that we are Catholic means we do respect people now, we are more open, not narrow-minded," Bishop Bianchini said according to Catholic News Service. "It's not denying our beliefs.

"It's not political correctness, it's accommodating a need occasionally on request in a room; even if it's someone that believes nothing and they see this tortured body on the cross, the visual image can be distressing if they don't understand it," the bishop said, defending the policy of the local Geraldton St John of God Hospital.

"If they're in a room and they were stressed, are you helping or hindering them? That's part of good health care - you tend to them," said the bishop. "It's why the hospital started, with the care of the sick."

The hospital is part of the St John of God Health Care System, Australia's third-largest private hospital operator with 11 hospitals in two states. Although the hospital is part of the system established by the St John of God Sisters, it is largely run by laypeople.

The hospital has made special arrangements for Muslim prayer services, and staff have been versed in traditional Australian Aboriginal culture to develop their understanding of other people's faiths and cultures.

Fiona Athersmith, director of St John of God marketing and public relations, told WA Catholic weekly The Record, that other members of the health care group also cooperate when patients want the crucifix hidden or removed from their rooms.

Athersmith said the decision was not about hiding Catholic iconography and symbolism in the hospital, but only occurs in individual circumstances, including requests from Catholics.

"Part of how we minister to people who are sick is to respect wishes about their immediate physical environment. To many people the crucifix is a reassuring symbol, but to others it is not."

Australian bishop defends covering crucifixes in Catholic hospital (Catholic Online, 10/7/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Geraldton diocese
St John of God Health Care

12 Jan 2007