By Harry Dudley
As staff to the USCCB Subcommittee on Certification for Ecclesial Ministry and Service, I helped the bishops approve standards and procedures for certification in specialized leadership positions. We have developed standards and procedures for parish leadership positions, as well as complementary standards for many parish volunteers. An alliance for the certification of lay ecclesial ministers was formed to promote this work for parish-related ministries such as directors of religious education, youth ministers, and pastoral associates. The professional associations that formed this alliance now have common and specialized standards for these parish roles.
In the course of this work, I have become acutely aware of the need for a similar alliance for those who do pastoral care outside the parish, such as in facilities for migrants and refugees, prisons, elder care facilities, etc. I am writing to affirm the importance of the current planning initiative of the NACC, which has led beyond its traditional realm of hospital chaplaincy.
As we completed the initial phase of the project, it became more evident that this collaboration is critically needed. Why? The landscape of pastoral care has been dramatically changing:
- Decreasing numbers of clergy require greater and more intentional collaboration with the laity so sacramental efforts can be more focused.
- This increasing involvement of the laity highlights the need for standards and competencies to help in forming them.
- Dioceses need help in providing formation for those leaders who help to manage pastoral care beyond the hospital work that NACC has traditionally supported.
- Except for the NACC, there has been a clear lack of sufficient infrastructure to support the necessary training and certification of those Catholics who want to offer pastoral care.
I have come to believe that history could be repeating itself. NACC was first formed because greater consistency was needed for the recruitment, formation, and support of chaplains. The same is true today. Other professional associations have been shrinking in membership and resources, partially because of aging of chaplains and other pastoral care workers who do the work full time.
For instance, the Association of Catholic Correction Chaplains of America had to dissolve itself this year. Their members were either not being replaced or were replaced by generic “activities coordinators” representing no particular tradition. This happened as we have had an incredible growth in the percentage of our citizens in jails and prisons. An army of volunteers is needed, as well as training for them. Due to the Raskob project and the competencies already developed, NACC was asked to be a partner in the newly forming Catholic Prison Ministries Coalition. I believe that what has been done so far offers a critical step in the right direction.
This effort will certainly identify better ways to assist dioceses in supporting and networking those appointed to do pastoral care. Because many who offer pastoral care do ministry in multiple settings, the common standards and competencies as well as the specialized ones will help assure more consistent and contextual formation appropriate for the various settings in which they serve.
The proposed plan to offer online education and virtual platforms will allow remote and home mission dioceses to access high-quality programs. It is clear to me that this partnership, initially funded by the Raskob Foundation, should continue. I have met with the NACC board and personally thanked them for their commitment to lead the partners in this effort. In my work, I gradually became aware of the fact that NACC has had the gold standard for support of certification. I applaud the board’s commitment to expand the benefits of this experience.
In supporting the work of the Subcommittee, I have become acutely aware of the need for an alliance like this for those who do pastoral care in other than parish settings. The discussions and cooperative efforts work of the task force have moved us closer to such a reality.
In Gaudete et Exaltate (#130), Pope Francis says, “How often we are tempted to keep close to the shore! Yet the Lord calls us to put out into the deep and let down our nets (cf. Lk 5:4). He bids us spend our lives in his service. Clinging to him, we are inspired to put all our charisms at the service of others. May we always feel compelled by his love (2 Cor 5:14).”
Therefore, although recently retired, I offered to join the planning committee for the next major phase of this project: a conference at Mundelein, IL, in 2019 to unveil what has been created. It is my own small way of encouraging the NACC to continue in this effort. Thanks to NACC, the work that flows from this planning process will help to improve existing programs and to train the growing number volunteers who have been inspired by Pope Francis to become involved in pastoral care in hospitals, correctional facilities, and elsewhere.
Harry J. Dudley, D.Min., recently retired as assistant director for certification of ecclesial ministry at the USCCB Secretariat of Catholic Education, Subcommittee on Certification for Ecclesial Ministry and Service.