The role of chaplaincy in Catholic education has a long history. When Catholic high schools were founded, by religious orders, it was often with great sacrifice that a community would identify a chaplain who had theological training, often a priest or professed religious. Those early communities understood the value of chaplaincy.

Published in Guest Columns

A new and bigger Muslim prayer room at Western University has triggered resignations from the entire Catholic chaplaincy team, led by Fr. Michael Bechard.

Published in Canada

TORONTO - For the first time in Canadian history, the men and women who ventured into war unarmed, carrying a holy book, ready to listen to and serve soldiers in distress are being remembered with a museum exhibition.

Published in Canada

TORONTO - As due dates for university applications are fast approaching, many Catholic students are taking time to consider faith before making any final decisions.

Published in Youth Speak News

Toronto - On the journey from a hospital bed back home, a patient may be visited by licensed doctors, licensed nurses, licensed psychologists, licensed pharmacists, licensed physiotherapists and a chaplain.

This is scheduled to change some time in 2014, when chaplains in Ontario hospitals, jails and other institutions will be licensed and held accountable to a professional college — just like doctors, pharmacists and nurses.

“People who work in spiritual care are really touching very deep, vulnerable places in people,” said Christine O’Brien, spiritual care trainee at Bridgepoint Health in Toronto. “There should be some regulation about training. It shouldn’t be simply that I have a nice background and I’m a nice person. There’s too much involved in what actually happens in patient care.”

The provincial government isn’t trying to regulate religion or oversee prayer, said Joyce Rowlands, the registrar of the Transitional Council of the College of Registered Psychotherapists and Registered Mental Health Therapists of Ontario.

“There are people in the province who are pastoral counsellors or spiritual care therapists, as some call themselves, who actively have wanted to be part of this process and become members of the new college,” Rowlands told The Catholic Register.

Chaplains, particularly those employed by hospitals, will want to be part of the college because hospitals will begin to make membership the minimum standard for working in their spiritual care departments. A 1991 law specifically rules out prayer and ritual as a form of therapy that the government needs to regulate. But anyone who enters into a specifically therapeutic relationship with people who suffer serious emotional, cognitive or psychological issues will need to be part of the new college when it’s up and running.

Chaplains employed by the Church to provide sacramental ministry, anything from delivering communion to hearing confessions, will be exempt.

O’Brien is taking a 12-week, intensive Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program at Bridgepoint, a major rehabilitation hospital in Toronto. O’Brien already has a Master of Divinity degree from Toronto’s University of St. Michael’s College and will need four such units of CPE training plus a course on the legal responsibilities and limits of caregivers before she qualifies to be licensed by the new college. While the college can’t dictate who the hospitals hire, nobody in the field believes hospitals will hire chaplains who aren’t members of the college.

In the early going, working under a supervisor, O’Brien sees how her work fits into a team of professionals working toward healing for patients.

“We’re talking about talking with patients who are in a vulnerable state, because they are ill, about issues of meaning and purpose in their lives,” she said. “About perhaps whether they believe in an afterlife. Are they feeling judgment? Are they terribly frightened because they think of their mortality? Their doctor doesn’t want to talk about their mortality and all those issues. These are spiritual issues.”

Catholic clergy and volunteers who visit Bridgepoint are also part of the bigger, healing picture. Even though O’Brien is Catholic she can’t do her job and deliver communion to all the Catholic patients. Neither can she say Mass or hear confessions. But she can help people to see their lives in a broader spiritual context — an insight that will make Mass and sacraments less isolated events and more part of the fabric of life as patients heal.
But making chaplains into therapists might not be such a good idea, says Jesuit Father Desmond Buhager, Regis College lecturer in family therapy and pastoral counselling.

“It could be conceived of as a medicalization of the role of chaplain,” he said. “They’re part of a health care team, but we don’t start calling social workers occupational therapists. They simply aren’t. So why try to glom them (chaplains) together with psychotherapists? They’re not mental health workers... They’re chaplains.”

How people are held accountable matters, said Buhage. Spiritual care staffers, especially at hospitals, will find themselves part of a College of Psychotherapy and Registered Mental Health Therapist. The problem is they’re not psychotherapists, Buhager said.

“The idea of levelling everything to making chaplains all of a sudden psychotherapists or requiring them to be mental health therapists is inappropriate,” said Buhager, himself a registered psychotherapist in the United States. “It’s weird. Excuse me. We (psychotherapists) did five or six or seven years of training as therapists with specific course curriculum and clinical hours of supervision simply to be treated the same as people who have done a few CPE units? Doesn’t sound right.”

The act which mandates the college was passed at Queen’s Park in 2007. It is one of five new health care colleges being created in Ontario. But the 2007 act can’t be proclaimed into law until regulations are in place. Trying to figure out how to regulate psychotherapy has been a huge challenge and the transitional council long ago abandoned hopes it would make an April 2013 deadline for establishing the new college.

“We spent two years trying to figure out, who are we regulating? What is the difference between these two titles (psychotherapist and registered mental health therapist)? What kinds of training and education does this very diverse spectrum of practitioners have? What should the requirements of registration be?” said Rowlands.

Psychotherapists will be required to complete 360 hours of supervised clinical training in a program that requires an undergraduate degree. RMHTs will more typically have community college training and 180 hours of supervised clinical work.

For spiritual care the usual standard is four units of CPE leading to specialist certification plus a Master of Divinity, Master of Theological Studies or equivalent degree.

Some psychotherapists have pushed for more stringent requirements — namely a masters degree in psychotherapy or a related counselling discipline, plus time spent in supervised clinical work. The problem with that is there’s only one masters psychotherapy degree in all of Ontario — Wilfrid Laurier University’s MA in theology with a specialization in spiritual care and psychotherapy. It also leaves out Jungian, Gestalt and other kinds of therapists who train in independent institutes that don’t award a masters degree.

However the work is labelled and licensed, O’Brien is convinced it’s necessary work.

“It’s a grace. It’s a satisfaction. Grace is in knowing that somehow I’ve been able to journey along even in a small way with this person who is in great need,” she said.

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA

Finding a home, a job, a purpose and peace for men who’ve spent most of their lives inside prison, addicted, raging and lost is never going to be easy. But Curtis Wiebe, who has spent 23 of his 45 years inside, has a suggestion for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews: Don’t cut programs that work.

When Correctional Services Canada decided in October not to renew the contracts of 49 part-time chaplains working in Canada’s federal prisons, it also meant cutting the programs they run — including the one that has helped Wiebe turn his life around.

As Wiebe neared release he moved from the maximum security Stoney Mountain institution near Winnipeg to the nearby minimum security Rockwood prison. In Rockwood he began meeting with a group led by part-time chaplain Sr. Carol Peloquin. The group called Next Step helped prisoners deal with the prospect of life on the outside in practical ways — driving them to appointments, finding a doctor, reconnecting with family when possible. It also selected a few men who both needed and wanted a supportive environment to live at Quixote House.

That’s where Wiebe is now, living with two Jesuit priests and four other parolees in an environment free of drugs and other negative influences, working on finishing high school, making plans for life beyond prison.

“I just couldn’t take it any more. If I had to come back (to prison) then my life’s over kind of thing,” said Wiebe. “And I like life, so I decided to stay out.”

But without Next Step and the part-time chaplain who runs it, staying out will be infinitely harder. Without Next Step there’s no path into Quixote House. Without Quixote House all Wiebe could afford on his disability pension would be a rooming house on the rough north side of town where drugs and alcohol are a constant presence.

There have been 67 men through Next Step over the last five years and three have gone back to jail for parole violations. All three were addicts and two were mental health patients. It’s a pretty good track record, said Next Step originator Peloquin.

“Quite a number of them are law-abiding citizens who would have jobs and are paying taxes, who wouldn’t be scaring the public,” she said.

The Jesuits and the Sisters of the Holy Name of Jesus, Peloquin’s community, are in the process of adding a third step to the supportive process of reintegration they’ve built on the Next Step program. Next door to Quixote House they are renovating an old crack house to create individual apartments to be known as the Massey Apartments — named after Jesuit Father Brian Massey who was a prison chaplain in Jamaica and Canada. Once complete, graduates from Quixote House will have a chance to try out independent living in their own apartment, but still with the support of Next Step.

Remove Next Step and the whole structure comes crashing down.

Correctional Services Canada gassed the $1.3 million-a-year part-time chaplain program without first working out what happens to the associated programs.

“A decision has yet to be made about all services that are connected with part-time chaplains,” reads an e-mail to The Catholic Register from the CSC media relations staff. “CSC is consulting with its various partners between now and the end of March 2013 to solicit their feedback and discuss the implementation of the full-time model of chaplaincy services.”

The Canadian bishops have kept their heads down while they quietly engage the federal prison service on a plan B.

“It would be sort of imprudent for us to comment,” said Whitehorse Bishop Gary Gordon, who acts as the liaison of prison ministry for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. “I know the commissioner and I know the chaplain management are working very hard to come up with viable options and alternatives and modalities of doing ministry.”

Central to the negotiations on how to do prison ministry without 49 part-time contract holders will be maintaining a memorandum of understanding between faith groups and CSC which stipulates the equivalent of one full-time professional chaplain for every 150 to 200 inmates.

So far Correctional Services has been talking up the 2,500 volunteers who contribute to chaplaincy.

Kathleen Mico, who earlier this year took over Next Step from Peloquin, is concerned that the dozens of volunteers she works with won’t have a program to volunteer for. It’s Mico, as the professional trained by Peloquin, who co-ordinates the volunteers for Next Step. If CSC takes away Mico, what will the volunteers do?

Given that just one prisoner in Stoney Mountain costs taxpayers about $100,000 per year, a program that keeps men out of prison on a quarter-time salary and two dozen volunteers is a pretty good deal, said Mico.

Not all groups affected by the decision to axe the chaplains are taking the behind-the-scenes approach of the Canadian bishops. Full-time federal prison chaplains are calling the decision a breach of non-Christian prisoner rights. Only one of the 80 full-time chaplains working in the federal prisons is not Christian.

While Toews claims a professional chaplain should be capable of serving the entire population regardless of religious affiliation — just as military chaplains do in the armed forces — Rev. Lloyd Bruce, full-time chaplain at the medium security Springhill Institution in Nova Scotia, isn’t buying it.

“Taking away professional chaplains of other world faith traditions is taking away hope from others who are struggling to turn their lives around,” Bruce wrote in a letter to Toews.

“Your decision not to renew part-time contracts with faith communities for provision of chaplaincy services with Correctional Service Canada will essentially eliminate chaplaincy services for non-Christians,” wrote the Moderator of the United Church of Canada Rev. Gary Paterson.

While the decision affects Buddhists, Jews, Jains and others who won’t have access to their own clergy unless those clergy volunteer, the 40 per cent of federal prisoners who are Catholic will be hit harder, said Gordon. Lay and Protestant chaplains may be very good counsellors and advocates for prisoners, but they can’t hear confessions, celebrate Mass, anoint the sick. Catholic canon law defines a chaplain as a priest.

Since 1975 Canada has endorsed the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which guarantees prisoners the right to access their own clergy. But that minimum standard is no help when it comes to maintaining the part-time chaplains.

“We’re quite aware that the government is under no obligation to pay for it. They are under an obligation to open the doors, access,” said Gordon.

Mico is one of just two part-time prison chaplains whose contract extends beyond next spring. But when her contract runs out in 2014 she’ll have to find another job. She simply can’t keep co-ordinating Next Step for free.

As the Catholic bishops look for solutions their primary interest is in maintaining service to prisoners, said Gordon.

“I can quite honestly and definitively say that as a Catholic Church we serve people. If we can get the remuneration to put those things in place, then we can serve them better,” he said.

Published in Canada
November 7, 2012

Save our chaplains

Chaplaincy has always been a cornerstone of the Canadian prison system.

Long before governments introduced things like professional counselling, therapy, education and job training to rehabilitate inmates, 19th-century priests and ministers brought faith to jail cells to help convicts find their way back into society.

It was understood by wardens and pastors alike that lessons in moral, ethical and civic behaviour required a spiritual grounding in faith to be truly effective. Although the years have brought considerable evolution in how prisons operate, the transforming role of faith has never changed. Inmates, more than most, need the hope and healing that is reflected in the faith of their chaplains.

So there is reason to despair over a government decision to eliminate 49 part-time chaplains from Canada’s federal prisons. Effective April 1 next year, prisons across the country will become a little more soulless for the sake of saving $1.3 million.

Canada’s 80 full-time prison chaplains will remain employed but their services will be spread thinner than ever. Particularly striking is that of those 80 chaplains just one will be non-Christian, an Iman. Of the 49 part-timers being let go, 31 are Christian and 18 currently serve non-Christian inmates.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has offered the naive suggestion that the spiritual needs of non- Christians can be served by Christian chaplains or by volunteers. But asking a Catholic chaplain to be a spiritual advisor to say, a Buddhist, is like asking a hockey coach to mentor an ice fisherman because both sports involve ice.

Equally unrealistic is the notion of replacing paid chaplains with volunteers. In addition to concerns about their qualifications, volunteers are often managed by the very part-time chaplaincy offices that are closing. Expecting full-time chaplains to assume this overseer role would only take them from other duties and further diminish their overall effectiveness.

Beyond that, there is a fundamental unfairness in a policy that denies all prisoners equal access to faith-specific chaplaincy services. Canadians are guaranteed the right to freely practise their religion. This right has been broadly respected for as long as prisons have existed here. To now virtually choke off that right for non-Christian inmates seems discriminatory and a potential spark for a Charter challenge. It’s all so unnecessary.

Society is obligated to provide prisoners with humane care. That includes spiritual nurturing. It’s in everyone’s best interests to inject faith into jails because discovering God or reconnecting with Him is often an important step in rehabilitiation.

Of course, prisoners can no more be forced to embrace faith than they can be forced to clean their plate at suppertime. But they are entitled to have access to spiritual nourishment. That should apply to prisoners of all faiths. Equally.

Published in Editorial
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