By Kate Sikora and Paul Tatnell April 09, 2009 12:00am
WORSHIPPERS at one of the state's largest hospital chapels have been ordered to get rid of crucifixes and Bibles and pull down religious pictures and symbols for fear of offending other religions.
The decision by Royal North Shore Hospital has outraged patients and their families, many of whom have turned to the chapel for comfort in their darkest hours.
Hospital managers ordered the ban on symbols of any kind because the chapel was increasingly being used by a number of different faiths.
But Mosman Mayor Dominic Lopez said angry patients were offended that the chapel no longer represented a holy place.
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"I used to sit there and pray when my wife was dying of breast cancer and look at that cross," he said. "Now it is just a hall and the decision is bulls. . .. You either have a chapel or you don't. It's offensive to have a church or chapel and not have a cross in it."
The Daily Telegraph understands some hospital chaplains have been fighting the decision but recently lost their battle.
The hospital defended its decision to ban all Christian and non-Christian symbols, saying it was appropriate to appease all religions. Each faith is allowed to display their symbols during services but they must be taken down and stored out of sight afterwards.
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But Islamic leaders last night stressed they would not have asked for Christian symbols to be removed.
NSW Health does not have a fixed policy on prayer rooms or hospital chapels.
"Some two-bit bob bureaucrat has made the decision, just like when someone decided we couldn't sing Christmas carols anymore in schools," Mr Lopez said.
"You walk in to the chapel now and it's like walking into a backyard shed.
Since 1968, visitors and patients of all faiths have been able to use the chapel. With its stained glass windows and timber ceiling, the prayer hall has been the perfect backdrop for weddings and other ceremonies.
Up until recently, a cross was visible at the front of the altar. A separate Muslim prayer space has been made in the chapel's loft.
A hospital spokeswoman said it was appropriate to "move with the times".
"The chapel is now best described as a multi-faith chapel where people of all faiths feel welcome," the spokeswoman said.
"The decision was made to display the symbols of each faith, for example the chapel's cross and Bible, during specific services and ceremonies only.
"These important religious symbols are appropriately stored and used regularly."