Body and Soul

Oct. 30-Nov. 5, 2003
Body and Soul
By Blessed Sacrament staff/ SUN contributing writers
Health care chaplains gather to celebrate Pastoral Care Week

The 13th Central New York Pastoral Care Day was held on Oct. 23 at Crouse Hospital, Marley Education Center. The annual event, coordinated by the Interreligious Council of Central New York (IRC), was part of a nation-wide celebration of Pastoral Care Week, held from Oct. 19-25.

Approximately 120 people gathered from across Central New York as well as from the Rochester Diocese and Carbondale, Pa. to engage in dialogue with persons of all faith traditions and contribute towards the integration of spiritually and health care. Father Joseph Driscoll, executive director of the National Association of Catholic Chaplains (NACC), was the keynote speaker. The NACC is a 3,250-member organization of professional pastoral care ministers. Ordained in the Archdiocese of Boston in 1979, Father Driscoll has served in combined parish and health care ministry for the past 25 years. He presented two lectures, “The Changing Nature of Faith Rituals and Pastoral Practice” and “Current Trends in Spiritual Care.” In his first presentation he discussed the latest developments concerning the Vatican, anointing and Last Rites from a Roman Catholic and broad faith perspective. “We are ritualistic people,” remarked Father Driscoll. “Many of our rituals come from religious beliefs.” He mentioned two Christian rituals that in his opinion have not been properly implemented into the life of the church –– Anointing of the Sick and Viaticum (Last Rites). In 325 during the Council of Nicea, the bishops said that the proper sacrament for the dying is Viaticum. But it hasn’t exactly been ministered in the intended way, said Father Driscoll. “Viaticum is a Christian ritual that has changed,” said Father Driscoll. “In pastoral practice, priests have not made the distinction between the sick and the dying.”

He explained, “A priest will go and see a patient going into surgery and often give them the sacrament of healing as well as Last Rites. There is no distinguishing between anointing and Viaticum.” There needs to be a distinction, Father Driscoll said. Viaticum, which in Latin means “on the way,” is the sacrament for the dying and may be given to someone who is ill more than once, pointed out Father Driscoll. Anointing of the Sick is a “living, healing sacrament” and must be ministered accordingly. This discussion was just one facet of an enlightening and thought-provoking day, which began with Father Driscoll gathering for an intimate breakfast with select religious and healthcare leaders, including Bishop James Moynihan. The breakfast offered guests the opportunity to dialogue about the field of chaplaincy and the latest developments nationally that impact on spirituality and healthcare. Some people might be confused about what chaplains in hospitals are intended to do, said Father Driscoll. Chaplains are not there to proselytize and impose their religious beliefs on patients. “This is unethical,” he said. They are there to be spiritual guides. There is a very important distinction between spirituality and religion, he explained. “Chaplains are not a clergy persons; they are spiritual care providers,” said Father Driscoll. “As so, we must be generically spiritual –– adopt the attitude ‘I can let God work in all kinds of ways.’ We are richer because we are a broad tapestry.” Chaplains respect patients’ religious affiliations –– whatever they may be –– and determine how to best minister to their needs.

According to Father Driscoll, a person’s spirituality affects his or her physical and emotional well-being. He believes spirituality and health care go hand-in-hand. “A person’s spiritual life has everything to do with health and as chaplains we must pay attention to that, ” he said. In light of the HIPPA law, there are new issues arising from religious bodies, faith leaders and medical institutions that change how each has previously dealt with health care. Father Driscoll said HIPPA has had drastic implications on clergy and chaplains. “There were good intentions behind the law in terms of protecting a patient’s confidentiality,” he said, “but it has been taken to the extreme.” He believes that steps should be taken to notify clergy that they have congregants in the hospital. He suggested that hospitals implement a method used in one Catholic hospital in Little Rock, Ark. This particular hospital releases to clergy the names of congregants he or she has in the hospital. In turn, the clergy member promises not to release the information. “The patients feel protected and are still getting access to clergy,” Father Driscoll said of the system. “This is the best policy I have heard yet.” The Rev. Terry Ruth Culbertson serves as director of pastoral care of the IRC of Central New York. She said Pastoral Care Day extends the mission of the IRC. “Part of what we do is to bring people together to talk,” said Rev. Culbertson. “Our mission is fellowship. We want all faith traditions to come together and know each other.”

For more information on the IRC, visit

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