On being a hospital chaplain


#1

in another thread it came up that I am a Catholic, lay hospital chaplain. There were a few questions so I thought I would start a new thread.

*one thing that came up was the qualifications: *
To be a board certified chaplain in the Catholic Church (it's diffrent for other faiths) you have to have at least a Master's in theology or related field then do 4 units of what we call Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). It's like 4 semesters of clinical work. That's what I am working on right now. I am on my second year of clinical training. The certifying body is called the National Association of Catholic Chaplains and is a USCCB organization. There is no requirement for Priesthood or Deaconate- after all, if there was, there wouldn't be many Catholic chaplains.

Those are some high qualifications is it a paid position?
Yes. part or full time. Full time is usually salaried.

**I always thought a hospital chaplain had to be a priest to administer last rights. **Well, I can not perform the Sacraments. So, if Sacrament of the Sick is needed I call a priest. Priests usually "round" hospitals and get to most of the Catholic patients without a chaplain ever calling them. The other thing to remember is that a chaplain ministers to more than just their faith. I'd say maybe 20 % of the people I see are Catholic. My faith informs how I minister and meet people where they are but I am not in the conversion/ saving people for Jesus business. That is not what chaplains do. My goal is to help people understand their spiritual situation re: distress vs hope and coping mechinisms, providing a presence of the spiritual, advocating for the importance of the spiritual component of healing...ect among other things.


#2

[quote="Franciscanguy, post:1, topic:298036"]
in another thread it came up that I am a Catholic, lay hospital chaplain. There were a few questions so I thought I would start a new thread.

*one thing that came up was the qualifications: *
To be a board certified chaplain in the Catholic Church (it's diffrent for other faiths) you have to have at least a Master's in theology or related field then do 4 units of what we call Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). It's like 4 semesters of clinical work. That's what I am working on right now. I am on my second year of clinical training. The certifying body is called the National Association of Catholic Chaplains and is a USCCB organization. There is no requirement for Priesthood or Deaconate- after all, if there was, there wouldn't be many Catholic chaplains.

Those are some high qualifications is it a paid position?
Yes. part or full time. Full time is usually salaried.

**I always thought a hospital chaplain had to be a priest to administer last rights. **Well, I can not perform the Sacraments. So, if Sacrament of the Sick is needed I call a priest. Priests usually "round" hospitals and get to most of the Catholic patients without a chaplain ever calling them. The other thing to remember is that a chaplain ministers to more than just their faith. I'd say maybe 20 % of the people I see are Catholic. My faith informs how I minister and meet people where they are but I am not in the conversion/ saving people for Jesus business. That is not what chaplains do. My goal is to help people understand their spiritual situation re: distress vs hope and coping mechinisms, providing a presence of the spiritual, advocating for the importance of the spiritual component of healing...ect among other things.

[/quote]

Thank you for clarifying what hospital and more particularly Catholic Chaplains do. What a needed ministry.
Blessings, Sr Debbie OSC


#3

are you ever treated as second rate when you visit a Catholic? Do they often seemed disappointed that you are not a priest? Just curious if you have to deal with that.


#4

[quote="Franciscanguy, post:1, topic:298036"]
I'd say maybe 20 % of the people I see are Catholic. My faith informs how I minister and meet people where they are but I am not in the conversion/ saving people for Jesus business.

[/quote]

Not to sound like a negative nancy but I would argue that your are a Catholic first and a Chaplain second. I am not in any way saying you should take a step back from the chaplain business (not by any means) but there is no reason you can't share your faith when and where possible. Obviously leaving it up to the Holy Spirit's discretion. It's not advisable to try to share the faith with someone who is grieving as that will undoubtedly be the least of their concerns. But for more sociable visits I don't see why you can't share your faith in any facet that you can (after ministering to the needs of your charges). What good is it to focus only on saving someone emotionally/mentally when they could be spiritually dead? Just a thought from someone who has absolutely zero experience in the field (so by all means please take it with a grain of salt).


#5

Regarding board certification, what is the name of the organization which does this?
Years ago, I looked into certification and do not remember having to have a Masters in Theology. I took an introductory class for Clinical Pastoral Education and then the first unit at our local hospital. To continue CPE, I would have had to travel to another city which was not practical at the time.

Perhaps my situation was unique because I was still able to be part of the public hospital’s Pastoral Care Department and wore a “volunteer chaplain” badge. I was also an Eucharistic Minister of Communion with a church badge. I carried both badges, because there can be times like a “code blue” when I had to switch badges.
Since that time, I imagine that stricter regulations regarding volunteer chaplains are in place.

My point in mentioning memories is that I feel it is important that Eucharistic Ministers to the Hospital take some kind of hospital training when available. Hospice training is very valuable. A hospital in another town offered sessions for “visitors” to the hospital which turned out to be excellent. By “visitors” was meant that those who visit the hospital on behalf of their church, not necessarily Catholic.


#6

What is this? Will I be harder to heal because I see nothing to indicate that there is anything spiritual?


#7

[quote="SaintPatrick333, post:4, topic:298036"]
Not to sound like a negative nancy but I would argue that your are a Catholic first and a Chaplain second. I am not in any way saying you should take a step back from the chaplain business (not by any means) but there is no reason you can't share your faith when and where possible. Obviously leaving it up to the Holy Spirit's discretion. It's not advisable to try to share the faith with someone who is grieving as that will undoubtedly be the least of their concerns. But for more sociable visits I don't see why you can't share your faith in any facet that you can (after ministering to the needs of your charges). What good is it to focus only on saving someone emotionally/mentally when they could be spiritually dead? Just a thought from someone who has absolutely zero experience in the field (so by all means please take it with a grain of salt).

[/quote]

In most hospitals, proselytizing is frowned upon. In our area, "bible thumpers" were not welcomed as hospital chaplains to other faiths. I shared my faith in actions.When I wore my hospital badge, I served people in whatever condition they were in. This meant that when I prayed with them, I was careful to pray in their religious tradition.
There were a few times when I wore my Church badge, because I was bringing Our Lord in Holy Communion, that the person in the next bed was hungry for prayer. I would tactfully invite the person to join in my prayers with the person I was "officially" visiting. There would be the recognition that I would only give Holy Communion to the Catholic.

In a hospital, I never underestimate the power of God to touch a soul.


#8

[quote="SaintPatrick333, post:4, topic:298036"]
Not to sound like a negative nancy but I would argue that your are a Catholic first and a Chaplain second. I am not in any way saying you should take a step back from the chaplain business (not by any means) but there is no reason you can't share your faith when and where possible. Obviously leaving it up to the Holy Spirit's discretion. It's not advisable to try to share the faith with someone who is grieving as that will undoubtedly be the least of their concerns. But for more sociable visits I don't see why you can't share your faith in any facet that you can (after ministering to the needs of your charges). What good is it to focus only on saving someone emotionally/mentally when they could be spiritually dead? Just a thought from someone who has absolutely zero experience in the field (so by all means please take it with a grain of salt).

[/quote]

I don’t think that is being negative at all. It is raising a great point, actually several great points. I agree that I am a Catholic first. If I had to describe it I would say Catholic is who I am and Chaplain is my vocation. So I do not deny that part. But I do not represent the Church at work. I am not a priest from St. X’s Church- I work for the hospital and am paid to attend to the needs of the patient.

There are several good reasons to not proselyte while “chaplaining”. Probably the most important one is that it’s unethical. By wearing the badge that says “chaplain” I have a certain amount of power and cache. To try to exert that in a way that would be meant to “control”, loosely speaking, especially with a physically, emotionally, and spiritually captive audience. People are generally in some distress if they are in the hospital. To put it another way, imagine it in reverse. Say you are in the hospital for X reason and a Muslim chaplain comes in to see you. How would you feel if he “shared his faith you?” How much would you be comfortable with? Even in a social visit (of which I actually do very few believe it or not) what would you want your chaplain to do?

Now, with all that said, it is true that there is a need for the chaplain to say SOMETHING. If you have ever had a psychologist or chaplain or the like ask a bunch of questions and never share you know what I mean. I generally keep it fairly generic though. I also strive to use language that the person is giving me. So, if they are talking about grace, I give that back to them in our conversation. If it’s forgiveness same thing… ect. When I share about my faith, say with my family, I am using my own language to describe it because it is, well, my experience. I want to know what the patient’s experience is. Even your use of the phrase “spiritually dead” is loaded language. How does one understand that? Is it meant to be a religious thing, that is does it mean someone who does not have any declared “spirituality”? or does it mean someone who is in despair? And you don’t have to answer these if you don’t want to I am just pointing out some of the problems. (actually if you look below I used loaded language when I said “spiritually” to which someone questioned me.)

Questions and comments are never bad


#9

I can’t speak to your situation but the current certifying body is the National Association of Catholic Chaplains (for Catholics. Protestants actually basically need an MDiv which is a 4 year masters)


#10

[quote="Hokomai, post:6, topic:298036"]
What is this? Will I be harder to heal because I see nothing to indicate that there is anything spiritual?

[/quote]

This is one of those language things. By spirituality I mean it in a very global sense that might mean something more specific. At it’s very base “spirituality” is how we make sense of the world and how we understand ourselves in that world. Essentially, it’s where and how we find our meaning. It does not necessarily have to do with God (although for many people it does). Things like suffering, pain, loss, adjustment, joy, anger, resentment, all have some “meaning” component to them. That’s what I’m interested in a lot of the time.

Some of my favorite and most effective conversations were with atheists or agnostics and the word “god” never crossed either of our lips.

It is not that healing is “harder” it’s that coping with it may be easier (and in some cases that does mean that healing is easier, even physically).


#11

[quote="Hokomai, post:6, topic:298036"]
What is this? Will I be harder to heal because I see nothing to indicate that there is anything spiritual?

[/quote]

Of course not. In my experience in hospital ministry, the "spiritual" can mean that a person is not alone. One time a nurse on the floor where I was assigned asked me to sit with a recovering alcoholic waiting for his surgery. I had no clue if he were a theist or an atheist or somewhere in between. That was not part of our conversation. He needed to have some sense of peace in order to heal physically. Did I talk to him about God? No. I listened to him. I applauded him for the progress he had made in getting his life together. Would getting rid of some of his bodily tenseness help him to heal. Yes. Was our conversation a spiritual experience of comfort and healing for the gentleman. Yes.


#12

Thanks for both these responses.


#13

Note; Canon Law (Canons 564-572) restricts the title “chaplain” to ordained priests.

Please see here for an explanation from the Nathional Association of Catholic Chaplains

nacc.org/vision/articles/use-of-title-chaplain.asp


#14

I do wish more Catholics were aware of the career opportunities in lay ecclesial health care ministry. Full-time well paying positions, and certainly spiritually rewarding as well.


#15

[quote="bingabinga, post:3, topic:298036"]
are you ever treated as second rate when you visit a Catholic? Do they often seemed disappointed that you are not a priest? Just curious if you have to deal with that.

[/quote]

I totally forgot to answer this. Sorry about that.

No, I never have felt like a "second class" person. Crisis has a way of making people see past things like that. I also think that for the most part the laity understands that a priest is often not avilable. They can barely handle their parishes and very few hospitals have a deticated staff priest.

And I agree with Mr Mayo that it is a shame that Catholics do not know about the lay, career ministries. I think that in order to mantain a Catholic presence in places like hospitals it is going to have to move to the laity doing that kind of work.


#16

[quote="grannymh, post:5, topic:298036"]
Regarding board certification, what is the name of the organization which does this?
Years ago, I looked into certification and do not remember having to have a Masters in Theology. I took an introductory class for Clinical Pastoral Education and then the first unit at our local hospital. To continue CPE, I would have had to travel to another city which was not practical at the time.

.

[/quote]

The requirement to have a MA in theology is fairly recent. My husband is a chaplain and he had to go for the MA to receive certification.


#17

Hi Fanciscanguy!

Firstly, thanks for stating this thread. I didn't know there were Catholic Chaplains who weren't ordained.

I must ask though, with all charity as I do truly respect what you do- I am likely just ignorant, but for me as a Catholic if I ask for a chaplain I would expect a priest to administer the sacraments- or a layman to distribute Communion if that is all I required.

I can see your role for non-Catholics in the hospital but what is your role for Catholics and how would this differ from just another layman visiting patients?

Lastly, I am a licensed social worker so don't think I'm trying to lessen the work you do- I simply am ifnorant of what your role would be for a Catholic.

Thanks again!


#18

Well, let me answer your question with a question (i’ll get you my answer later, promise. I have just been pontificating a lot lately) :slight_smile: Obviously, a Catholic patient should be availed of the Sacraments should they choose to accept them. I cannot do that- I’m not a priest. If all you required was those things, you would probably never see me.

What is interesting is that you said you could see a role for a chaplain for non-Catholics. What would that role be and might Catholics need the same kind of thing?


#19

[quote="Franciscanguy, post:18, topic:298036"]

What is interesting is that you said you could see a role for a chaplain for non-Catholics. What would that role be and might Catholics need the same kind of thing?

[/quote]

Ah, interesting point. A Catholic Chaplain could help "re-church" a patient if they are interest.


#20

Ok, that helps me understand where you are coming from. To answer that directly, I am not really interested in "churching" people. It isn't part of my job, even in a Catholic hospital. So what do I do?

When a patient is in pain every person on the staff has a job. The doctor asks "where does it hurt?" and prescribes meds. The nurse asks "does it still hurt?" and dispenses meds. The social worker..well you know that one. The PT and OT ask "do we need to help this person get to a point where they can be mobile in that pain or to lessen the pain?" The chaplain asks "what does it mean for you to be in pain?"

For the most part what the chaplain is interested in , at least in room visits, is meaning questions. "How do you feel about being diagnosed with cancer?" "betrayed". Then I can work with the person on betrayed by who (most likely God in this case) and what that relationship is like for the patient now. Is there a way we can work toward healing it?

We also provide a presence at deaths. Can we help with the grief process? Traumas, can we help deal with the acute crisis the family of the trauma is going through? Staff- can we help them with their anxiety? The list goes on.

I am not interested in what religion people are for the most part. I am interested in what the relationship with their "higher power" (if one) and the world is like for them. It isn't a theological discussion, as much as I would love to have that sometimes, so much as it is a personal one. Even here on this board, where we would mostly identify as Catholic (shout out to Hokomai for being here and not identifying with a religion) there is a diversity of experience. We have common threads between us but how we understand those threads is shaped by the life we live and the expeiences we have had.

It's part spiritual advisor, part psychologist, part counselor, part crisis manager, (and other things) and always being present.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.