Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Don't mention God here!

This story, which turned out to be one of the last I wrote for the Sun Sentinel, caused a great sensation. It went out on the Internet and whipped around the world, quickly attracting 175,000 hits and getting lots of play on, you guessed it, Fox News. I wrote it as straight-down-the-middle news story. But the reason it got so much attention is the absurdity of the hospice position: so afraid of offense, it reduces a chaplain's message to pabulum.


By Howard Goodman
Sun Sentinel Staff Writer

A chaplain at Hospice by the Sea in Boca Raton has resigned, she says, over a ban on use of the words "God" or "Lord" in public settings.

Chaplains still speak freely of the Almighty in private sessions with patients or families, but the Rev. Mirta Signorelli said: "I can't do chaplain's work if I can't say 'God' - if I'm scripted."

Hospice CEO Paula Alderson said the ban on religious references applies only to the inspirational messages that chaplains deliver in staff meetings. The hospice remains fully comfortable with ministers, priests and rabbis offering religious counsel to the dying and grieving.

"I was sensitive to the fact that we don't impose religion on our staff, and that it is not appropriate in the context of a staff meeting to use certain phrases or 'God' or 'Holy Father,' because some of our staff don't believe at all," Alderson said.

Signorelli, of Royal Palm Beach, said the hospice policy has a chilling effect that goes beyond the monthly staff meetings. She would have to watch her language, she said, when leading a prayer in the hospice chapel, when meeting patients in the public setting of a nursing home and in weekly patient conferences with doctors, nurses and social workers.

"If you take God away from me," she said, "it's like taking a medical tool away from a nurse."