Click the link below to read/download the June Newsletter (June 2018 Newsletter Vol 1 No. 2 ).
For several months we’ve been listening to complaints from various people about St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Ravena, New York, and their obvious failures to communicate, or their lay ministers’ aggressive attitude towards those who might question or have questions. We didn’t think this was right behavior for a community of so-called Christians, especially by those who are of and in the community of lay persons but may have a particular non-canonical (unestablished by canon law) job or ministry in the parish community such as the so-called director of religious instruction.
With the upcoming conferral of the Roman Catholic sacrament of Confirmation at St Patrick’s in Ravena on Sunday, April 22, 2018, for centuries a community event to be celebrated by those confirmed, their families and friends, the questions were many but few were answered.
We decided that for the community’s benefit we would get the details straight from the pastor and his minions, publish the details, and the community would know.
We were incredibly mistaken to believe that the closed circuit of parish communications in the Roman Catholic parish or the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, for ever locked boxes of information, would all of a sudden burst open with a sense of community sharing. In fact, we sent no less than three (3) separate requests to the pastor of St Patrick Roman Catholic Church in Ravena, Scott vanDerveer, to his parish deacon, Steven Young, and to lay coordinator, Christa Derosiers (Faith Formation) requesting details about the event. We didn’t receive even the courtesy of an acknowledgment of our requests, much less the information we were requesting. Imagine! Three separate requests to a parish, a so-called community of faithful Christians, requesting information on an important community event, and none of the self-important hypocrites can take the time to answer. The questions continue as do the uncertainties surrounding the event.
In desperation we contacted several offices of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, including the bishop’s office, asking “What’s wrong with you people!” and, as expected, we didn’t receive a response.
The parish pastor, Scott VanDerveer and the bishop’s representative in the parish, the deacon, Steven Young, are responsible for the operations of the parish under canon law. The lay persons, like Krista Derosiers, performing certain jobs in the parish like so-called “faith formation,” and other lay ministries, are answerable to the pastor, who in turn is answerable to the bishop. It appears no one seems to think they are answerable to the community, not even to the parents in the parish. In fact, Derosiers appears to have assumed the role of “gate keeper” and takes a particularly nasty attitude when approached by parents seeking information. One parent even admitted that because of Derossiers’ attitude she, the parent, was a little uncomfortable leaving her child unaccompanied, fearing retaliation would be visited upon the innocent child. How can such an atmosphere exist in what is supposed to be a place of love and peace? Well, that’s Ravena for you.
But the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany is too busy dressing up in carnival colors and playing politics to be bothered with the concerns of the faithful. That’s obvious if you visit the Dioceses’ website and see the dozens of offices, departments, etc. Not many of those departments and offices appear even remotely connected with the thousands of souls they include in their rolls—many of whom have long since ceased practicing their faith and avoid the Church all together, as well as those who are actively leaving the Catholic Church. It seems the Catholic hierarchy don’t really give a damn because they are too busy competing with the Evangelicals in the Third World for souls; the more ignorant the soul the easier it is to control.
The Roman Catholic church has a long history of political activity and misdeeds so the conduct in the microcosm, Ravena, should not come as a surprise to anyone, really. It’s all a smoke and mirrors act.
What’s even worse is that the current Albany Roman Catholic bishop, Edward Schwarzenberger, isn’t going to confirm the kids. That’s not all that surprising, since he’s usually in NYC or otherwise invisible in Albany. Ailing retired bishop Howard Hubbard, bishop emeritus, is going to confirm the kids. Where will Scharfenberger be on April 22nd? Probably getting fitted for another one of his psychedelic bishop costumes he’s become famous for modeling. Well, there’s really no accounting for taste — or the lack of it.
Well, here’s the proof of the craziness in the Church. You see, we’ve already reported on some of the incredible burocracy of the Roman Catholic Church, using the Ravena parish as an example. If you need to refresh your memory, please read our article “Roman Catholic Parishes Use Collection Envelopes (and their Contents) to Determine a Catholic “in good standing”!” and prepare to be very disgusted.
It’s uncanny how indifferent the Roman Catholic parish of St Patrick in Ravena can actually be not only to the public, to those seeking correct and complete information, but to their own children and families! The whole Confirmation event is a clear example of how a so-called Church, the “mystical body of Christ”, can be so un-Christian! Here’s how:
Parents of the young men and women to be confirmed were kept in the dark for months regarding the date and time of the rituals, and then they received conflicting information! Despite the fact that the young men and women to be confirmed had been attending preparation classes for about two years, parents were kept in the dark until only two months before the actual date for the event. First the event was to be at St Patrick’s in Ravena, then at St Mary’s in Coxsackie, then separately, then combined. WTF?!?
Well, we have learned thru the grapevine (no pun intended) that the Confirmation rites are to be held on Sunday, April 22, 2018, at St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Ravena, presided over by Albany Roman Catholic bishop emeritus Howard Hubbard. The time for the ceremonies is incredible, a classic example of poor planning, planning convenient only to the organization, planning that is so outrageous that it could only happen in a Roman Catholic parish!!!
The Confirmation is slated to take place on Sunday evening, between 6 and 8 p.m. That’s on a Sunday evening when the kids have school the next day and parents, relatives, and friends have either to attend classes or go to work the next morning!!!
Many families have complained that relatives and friends who might have wanted to attend and share the joy of the experience cannot do so because of the day and the late hour of the ceremonies. We say that’s disgraceful of the Church to prevent a good portion of the family circle and the community from attending what is supposed to be an important sacred event for which the young people have been preparing literally for years!!!
It’s incredibly regrettable that the parents of the young people either have to plan to have the customary celebration reception either before the event or some time after the event. Just because it’s inconvenenient for some people in the Church organization!!!
But on a Sunday evening? That’s unheard of! And between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.? That’s absolutely scandalous! That means the kids won’t be in bed before 10 p.m. and wasted for the next school day. What are those so-called Catholics in Albany thinking. Well, the way they respond to questions, we’ll never know. But according to one parent, Ms Derossiers arrogant response was “That’s the date and we can’t do anything about it.” Well, we know now with certainty, don’t we?
And they wonder why they’re hemorrhaging parishioners and closing parishes? DUH!!!
We were recently contacted by a reader asking us for an opinion about the question of whether the Requirement of Registration in a Parish and an Affidavit of Good Standing is appropriate for fulfillment of the role of confirmation sponsor. That’s a compound question consisting of two separate questions:
The second question necessarily follows on the first question.
The Roman Catholic Parish of St Patrick in Ravena, NY, a parish in the territory of the Diocese of Albany, NY (Edward B. Scharfenberger, bishop) has scheduled their Confirmations for April, 2018, and just recently sponsor designates were informed that they were to provide certain certifications as to their “fitness” to fulfill the role of Confirmation sponsor. We have obtained statements from sponsor designates and a copy of the form to be signed by the sponsor designates. In general, the “contract” is rather primitive and a bit late, since it appears it should have been provided to the sponsor designate right at the start of the formation period and not 2 months before the Confirmation! In addition, it contains a number of silly requirements, one of which caught our eye:
“The sponsor agrees to provide:
+ The Church of St Patrick the name and address of the Parish and Pastor where they currently worship;
+ Further provide the Church of St Patrick with an Affidavit signed by their current pastor certifying they meet these requirements:
– At least 16 years old,
– Fully initiated into the Roman Catholic Faith through the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist.”
The grammar leaves a great deal to be desired and it’s unclear whether the certifying pastor has to be “at least 16 years old” and “fully initiated” or the sponsor. Another problem is that it is the “Church of St Patrick” while we have always thought of the Church as being the Church Jesus Christ, and the church as used in the Church of St Patrick would clearly indicate the building and not the community, the mystical body; properly stated, it should be the “Parish” of St Patrick for obvious reasons. But the document has other flaws.
It raises the question of What business does a pastor have certifying a sponsor’s age? That’s done by way of a secular birth certificate!
In addition, the current pastor must sign an affidavit confirming the sponsor’s age AND that the sponsor has received the sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation, all of which are clearly proved by the respective certificates issued by the conferring parish, not necessarily by the sponsor’s territorial pastor. So we had a closer look at what’s going on here because something stinks in Ravena, and the smoke of satan is probably coming from the Albany Diocesan Offices.
Those observations are merely a further confirmation of the turmoil and confusion that reigns supreme in the Roman Catholic Church today, and are clearly visible in the parishes.
First, let’s look at what the Roman Catholic Code of Canon Law, the collection of rules and regulations governing what and how things are done in the Roman Catholic Church, has to say about what a “parish” is — this is an important first step because most “practicing” Catholics don’t have a clue what a parish is.
The Code of Canon Law (sections abbreviated “C.”) defines “parish” in the following terms:
515 §1. A parish is a certain community of the Christian faithful stably constituted in a particular church, whose pastoral care is entrusted to a pastor (parochus) as its proper pastor (pastor) under the authority of the diocesan bishop. [our emphasis]
And c. 518 expressly defines the parish as “territorial,” meaning,
Can. 518 As a general rule a parish is to be territorial, that is, one which includes all the Christian faithful of a certain territory. When it is expedient, however, personal parishes are to be established determined by reason of the rite, language, or nationality of the Christian faithful of some territory, or even for some other reason. [our emphasis]
Therefore, a parish is territorial. As such it embraces all the Catholics of a given region on a map. When a bishop formally erects a parish, he establishes its specific boundaries, and all Catholics residing within those limits are ipso facto (and de jure) members of that parish, whether or not they know it. Canon law does not require anyone living within the parish boundaries to take the additional step of registering at the parish. The very fact that a Catholic lives in the territory of a particular parish is enough to make him or her member of that parish. Canon law does not require formal registration in that parish to be a member of that particular parish. Question 1 is thus moot. A dead issue. No registration is required.
The fact that parishes are by definition territorial does not mean that it is illegal under Canon Law or wrong to require people to register; it may be useful to ask them to register in their parishes for administrative reasons, such as for example, census purposes or for surveys, or for demographic purposes.
In the American Catholic Church the parish registration system has been superimposed on top of Canon Law, but parish registration is not a part or provision of Canon Law. In fact, the parish registration system must never be used in such a way as to contradict Canon Law; if there is a conflict, Canon Law must take precedence. This includes the situation where a local bishop, called the local ordinary, or his staff makes up some “local” law or rule for the diocese; that local rule cannot replace Canon Law or contradict it. Period.
But the question posed is Confirmation Sponsors. On the question of parish registration as regards confirmation sponsors, The purpose of c. 892 and its requirements are merely to make clear that the sponsor of the confirmed person is to ensure that the confirmed behaves as a true witness of Christ and faithfully fulfills the obligations inherent in this sacrament. That should be no problem in theory, but let’s move on.
In the Roman Catholic Church the requirements to be a Confirmation sponsor are the same as those for a Baptismal godparent. As regards the requirements for a person to fulfill the function of confirmation sponsor c. 893 refers back to c. 874 which lays down functions for fulfilling the function of a baptismal godparent, that is, the requirements for fulfilling the role of confirmation sponsor are the same as for a baptismal godparent. According to Roman Catholic Canon law, the requirements for both a Baptismal godparent and a Confirmation sponsor are:
Can. 874 §1. To be permitted to take on the function of sponsor a person must:
1/ be designated by the one to be baptized, by the parents or the person who takes their place, or in their absence by the pastor or minister and have the aptitude and intention of fulfilling this function;
2/ have completed the sixteenth year of age, unless the diocesan bishop has established another age, or the pastor or minister has granted an exception for a just cause;
3/ be a Catholic who has been confirmed and has already received the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist and who leads a life of faith in keeping with the function to be taken on;
4/ not be bound by any canonical penalty legitimately imposed or declared;
5/ not be the father or mother of the one to be baptized.
In other words, the person chosen by the candidate for confirmation or the candidate’s parents, or both, must be someone who takes his or her Catholic faith seriously enough that s/he may serve as a mentor for the person to be confirmed. In essence, the first requirement then, is the trust and confidence of the candidate and his/her parents that operate in determining the fitness of a person to be sponsor. To abrogate that authority or to demean the capability of the candidate or his/her parents to determine suitability in practical terms would be an affront.
Canon Law makes no statement, provision or requirement that the proposed sponsor be formally registered in a parish, nor does relevant Canon Law set forth any criteria or system for determining fitness in terms other than that the sponsor designate be a witness of Christ and a capable mentor. Nor does Canon Law lay down a protocol on how that s/he be examined for his/her fitness to be a confirmation sponsor, but merely states to the effect that the person takes his/her Catholic faith seriously and can be a mentor for the candidate.
Since the Code of Canon Law nowhere mentions parish registration, and certainly does not state or even imply anywhere that a sponsor in sacramental Confirmation must be registered at a particular parish, such requirement is being made an obstacle is canonically illicit and unlawful. In other words, the territorial parish of St Patrick Roman Catholic Church, Ravena, NY (Scott VanDerveer, pastor) is wrong to require an Affidavit of Parish Registration and the Parish of St John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church, Greenville, NY (Steven Matthews, pastor) in Greenville is wrong to deny the sponsor designate a letter testifying to the fact that the sponsor designate is a member of the territorial parish of St John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church. If the sponsor designate lives in the territory of St John the Baptist parish, that person, if Catholic is a member of that parish.
While the Code of Canon Law expressly indicates that a Confirmation sponsor must be a committed Catholic, it does not provide a hint of guidance how this is to supposed to be determined, much less proved. This raises the question whether the territorial parish of St John the Baptist RC in Greenville or the territorial parish of St Patrick RC in Ravena have in place a consistent and reliable system to decide who is a suitable sponsor, and how to document that assessment. For the criteria used to test the quality of Catholics, we have to turn to the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, and to the so-called Precepts. But those so-called Precepts do not possess the quality of law and are extremely difficult if not impossible to verify (the link below).
The Precepts are a classic example of unenforceable control but the gremlin gatekeepers, the so called “Faith Education” directors use them like swords, but without Church authority or common sense to understand them.
We have to ask: Do the concerned pastors know each of their flock by name and do they have intimate knowledge of what their parishioners’ lifestyle and characters are? Or can we better presume that the candidate and his or her parents are better able to make that assessment? Does the fact that someone appears every Sunday at liturgy make him or her good Catholic, and thus a better sponsor than one who does not? Or is the measure one of the magnanimity of financial contributions to the parish, or the fact that both time and treasure are determinants? Can the pastor even recognize the person by sight? Would those be applicable objective criteria to satisfy the requirement that the person takes his/her Catholic faith seriously and can be a mentor for the confirmation candidate?
Figuratively speaking, this problem can be restated in hypothetical terms as, “Is the use of collection envelopes the final arbiter of whether a person is a Catholic “in good standing” and competent to serve as a confirmation sponsor?” But that’s not even a hypothetical situation! Many parishes are using collection envelopes to decide whether or not a “practicing Catholic” is a “Catholic in good standing!”
Here’s a depraved, reprehensible and embarrassing excerpt from the BAPTISM AND/OR CONFIRMATION SPONSOR GUIDELINES of the Cathedral Church of Saint Patrick (Charlotte, NC), which is by no means uncommon and is representative of many American parishes, in that St Patrick’s makes a number of illicit and illegal requirements:
and the sponsor’s parish pastor must certify
Do these administrators and pastors know their Canon Law or are they arbitrarily applying a personal interpretation of the phrase, “in good standing?” This has been known to happen all too frequently and with tragic results.
Furthermore, while we know that well-meaning Catholics may work long hours in parish offices and programs for low or no pay, and their “dedication” is commendable, they do play a critical role in the life of a typical parish but – and that’s a really big “but” — because they do not hold ecclesial office pursuant to c. 145, they are not accorded by law any spiritual authority over other members of the parish.
The bottom line is that the pastor is the person ultimately responsible for the spiritual well-being of his parishioners, and as Canon Law states, parishes are territorial and all Catholics in that territory are “parishioners” under the terms of Canon Law. Therefore, the pastor is responsible for the canonical, pastoral, spiritual well-being of his parishioners. If he is unaware of a problem or a situation that can transfigure into a problem, it is important that he be informed about it, and that he deal with it appropriately. By respectfully calling the pastor’s attention to such an issue, the whole parish, diocese and certainly the whole Church ultimately benefits.
Figuratively speaking, this problem can be restated in hypothetical terms as, “Is the use of collection envelopes the final arbiter of whether a person is a Catholic “in good standing” and competent to serve as a confirmation sponsor?”
The answer is administratively maybe, canonically NO!
Unless the lay administrators of the Parish of St Patrick have an established system approved by competent authority for determining membership in the territorial parishes of St Patrick or of St John the Baptist, the requirement of certifying membership in any parish is served canonically by the mere provision of proof of domicile, said domicile being situated in the territory of a given parish ipso facto and de jure establishes the person as a member of that territorial parish. Canon law takes precedence over local law in the event of ambiguity, vagueness, over-broadness or arbitrariness of the local provision.
In terms of the fact of “in good standing,” unless specifically stated in clear and unambiguous terms How? in practical and objective terms a pastor is to determine “good standing,” and which criteria are to be applied for such determination, as well as the specificity and reliability of such criteria when applied to an ever-changing and practically protean population of a territorial parish, made even more difficult by the mobility of today’s populations, the arbiter in the first instance must be those who are intimately familiar with the character of the sponsor designate; in the second instance, testimony or reference or direct observation my be called upon to further confirm fitness. Otherwise, any claim to system or protocol that may be proffered by pastor or lay administrator is subject to scrutiny, and likely to be found insufficient, if not illicit or even canonically unlawful.
It is our determination that the territorial parish does not have the canonical authority to require registration of persons as members of a parish, that in virtue of their residing within the territory of a given parish makes them de jure members of that parish and entitled to a letter confirming that fact, providing that they can give a showing of having been validly and licitly baptized into the Church.
As established at c. 874 §1 (CCL) the requirements for acting as a confirmation sponsor are also set forth by canon law, that is, the sponsor designate must be baptized, have received the sacrament of Holy Eucharist, and have been confirmed pursuant the terms and conditions of Canon Law. Furthermore, the sponsor designate shall be 16 years old or older, shall not be not be bound by any canonical penalty, and shall not be the father or the mother of the person to be confirmed. The law also requires that the person shall lead a life of faith but does not provide specifics.
Catholic “in good standing.” There then arises the question of what is meant by a Catholic in good standing. It is generally purported that a so-called Catholic in good standing is a baptized Catholic who claims to live by the Precepts of the Roman Catholic Church as promulgated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which derived presumably from the statements expressed or implied in §§ 2041-2043 of the said Catechism. The observation, however, obtains that monitoring those “precepts” for each parishioner is at best daunting if not entirely impossible. Furthermore, even if the precepts were verifiable in any credible way, keeping those precepts would be a question of Pharisee vs tax collector (Lk 18:9-14), demonstrating more technique than disposition (inner forum).
Either the pastor or his administrators would have to take a Sunday mass, reconciliation, Eucharist attendance, and would have to have some method of verifying ascetic practices as well. Some parishes have inaugurated a control of collection envelopes to keep tabs on their flocks but not everyone chooses to use collection envelopes and many simply drop cash into the collection baskets. Most persons today would object to such monitoring and auditing practices.
External observation and compliance do not testify to inner holiness by any means and one would benefit by keeping in mind the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, while admitting that the majority in the pews are Pharisees or at best ignorant of anything approximating the so-called “precepts.” Moreover, it is flies in the face of reason to even suggest that the majority of Catholics today qualify even in one or two of the precepts; accordingly, the majority, though living moral and ethical lives, would be rejected by the Church as being “in good standing.” So, the reasonable conclusion is that the term “in good standing” is not verifiable in reliable objective terms, and that such verification would necessarily have to resort to a creation of an exclusivist, verifiable class of individuals within any parish, perpetuating an already excessively technical and legalistic hierarchical and paternalistic institution that has had its well-earned share of criticism and condemnation, and has tragically resulted in the hemorrhaging of the faithful from an ailing Church. The term “in good standing” is a farce and should be abandoned post haste.
The Precepts used to determine a Catholic in good standing are taken from the RC Catechism. The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church is “a text which contains the fundamental Christian truths formulated in a way that facilitates their understanding” and is “a ‘point of reference’ for bishops, priests, catechists, teachers, preachers, scholars, students and authors.” The RC Catechism contains doctrine (teachings of the Church) doctrine and some dogma (universal truths of the Church) but in itself is not dogma!
Furthermore, the USCCB notes that:
“By its very nature, a catechism presents the fundamental truths of the faith which have already been communicated and defined. Because the Catechism presents Catholic doctrine in a complete yet summary way, it naturally contains the infallible doctrinal definitions of the popes and ecumenical councils in the history of the Church. It also presents teaching which has not been communicated and defined in these most solemn forms.” (17)
The Catechism is a resource book and may be difficult for the “people in the pews,” to understand. According to the bishops’ statement:
“It would be helpful if the reader had some theological background, but the Catechism itself presents a considerable amount of theological background material.”
Most lay ministers and parish administrators do not have theological or pastoral training; it is also true that putting important decisions in the hands of amateurs is a very slippery slope. Add to that the power dynamics and the political and social forces that are prominent in parishes and we have a very hazardous situation indeed.
Any guidelines or protocols existing in a particular parish must, of course, comply with Canon Law, as must any local law, and must be applicable uniformly and impartially to any given situation, including that of confirmation sponsor. The local ordinary (the bishop) and then his presbyter pastor are the ultimate authorities for determining such guidelines and protocols which clearly do not fall within the purview of persons not having canonical authority to promulgate or to interpret such guidelines or protocols.
If a question or problem should arise with regard to the provisions of canon law or to local laws, guidelines, or rules licitly, lawfully, and validly promulgated and ratified, such question or problem should be consigned to the parish pastor in the first instance for resolution. Pursuant to c. 145 and c. 519, lay persons or lay administrators do not have canonical authority in such spiritual matters.
The pastoral, spiritual, administrative procedures in the individual locales use to interview, screen, assess, guide, instruct, mentor, or otherwise prepare sponsor designates for their role as sponsor is beyond the question posed, and are thus beyond the scope of this opinion. That statement notwithstanding, the fact that they are beyond the scope of this opinion does not in any way detract from their importance nor from the responsibility of the parochial ecclesial officers to ensure that such procedures are in place and are implemented objectively and impartially, and that the associated lay ministers and administrators are adequately discerned, formed and mentored to ensure the well-being of confirmation candidates and their sponsor designates.
Please click on this link to read the original opinion on which this article is based: Responsum ad Dubium re Confirmation Sponsor.
 The parish of St Patrick in Ravena has a number of problems not the least of which is their website which is an indicator of the lack of professionalism and care that one would expect. For example, there is a page entitled “We have come such a long way in a relatively short period of time! Take a look at our History! / St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Parish began as a mission church in 1859 where the Church overlooked the Hudson River in Coeymans. In 1917 it was rebuilt at it’s [sic] current site on Main St in Ravena / So who were our Pastors?” That page shows a series of images of a man’s headshot; apparently all the pastors were look alike clones. The Hudson River is not all that the parish of St Patrick in Ravena overlooked. Maybe pastor Scott VanDerveer should spend some time checking his minions’ work and grammar. It’s an embarrassment.
 Isn’t it an interesting coincidence that the local parish of St Patrick in Ravena, NY, should share the same deficiencies as the parish of the same name, St Patrick, in Charlotte, NC? What does that tell you?
 Can. 145 §1. An ecclesiastical office is any function constituted in a stable manner by divine or ecclesiastical ordinance to be exercised for a spiritual purpose. Further, at §2., the Code states “The obligations and rights proper to individual ecclesiastical offices are defined either in the law by which the office is constituted or in the decree of the competent authority by which the office is at the same time constituted and conferred.”
 C. 519 The pastor (parochus) is the proper pastor (pastor) of the parish entrusted to him, exercising the pastoral care of the community committed to him under the authority of the diocesan bishop in whose ministry of Christ he has been called to share, so that for that same community he carries out the functions of teaching, sanctifying, and governing, also with the cooperation of other presbyters or deacons and with the assistance of lay members of the Christian faithful, according to the norm of law. [emphasis provided]
 Appendix I, Catholic Catechism, Precepts
 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), “Frequently Asked Questions about the Catechism of the Catholic Church” (http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catechism/catechism-of-the-catholic-church/frequently-asked-questions-about-the-catechism-of-the-catholic-church.cfm last accessed on February
 Having made that statement, I would like to ask the bishops Who is to decide or determine what is what in the Catechism? Without formation and training it is a hopeless task for the lay person to discern what is doctrine, what is dogma, what is theology, etc. The whole statement is a collection of ecclesial double-talk!
Why Funeral Directors and Clergy Should Ally with the Chaplain.
Rev. Ch. Harold W. Vadney B.A., [M.A.], M.Div.
Bereavement Chaplain/Thanatologist/Psychospiritual Care Provider
In principle and practice, as a celebrant/officiant, the focus of my attention is the family, then the deceased, the assembly and finally the venue. As a bereavement chaplain my vocation is correctly spelled “t-r-a-n-s-f-o-r-m-a-t-i-o-n” and its outcome is correctly called “growth.”
Today’s most communicable disease is called control. But as a chaplain, control is alien to me. True, when I appear people seem to quiet down, to be more in listening mode. They seem to be more receptive to hearing a message that might possibly ease the suffering, the acute pain they are experiencing. There’s a certain authority that I have to bear with extreme humility; it’s not power as such, and it’s much less control. It’s the aura of authenticity, of compassion; people trust me.
I am in fact not in control, nor do I attempt to assume control of anything, not even the funeralization rites and ritual, the ceremonial, on which I may have worked for days to organize and to tweak right up to the point of greeting the assembly and pronouncing the words of dismissal, “Go in peace and love one another.” I am merely an instrument of comfort and healing; a mere master of ceremonies. A sometimes crisis manager. A paid consultant.
I receive the first call from the funeral director with gratitude and commitment; I contact the family and the arrangers with compassion and humility. My first words after introducing myself and expressing my condolences and assurances, are likely to be “This is about the family, your loved one; it’s not about me or anything else. I’m here to serve you.” Those words usually break the ice immediately, and the anxiety associated with the protocol of chatting with the chaplain about rites and ritual that might be as strange and mysterious as death itself, is dispelled, and we can talk about the deceased loved one and the service like family—or as close to being old friends as the situation will allow. Always in the back of my mind is that these are suffering people, each in his or her own way experiencing a loss and attempting to cope with the situation and their emotions with whatever they might have at hand. It’s my job in this initial phase to sort through my armamentarium of training and experience to find the right salves, ointments and incantations to assuage the acute pain, to prepare them for the chronic aches, and to ease, not remove, their suffering; it’s the suffering that will nurture their healing and growth, after all, you can’t harvest a good crop without wounding the earth and planting the seed.
But even after breaking open the earth and planting the seed, aftercare is essential. You must water and weed the rows to ensure that the seedlings prosper and grow. It’s what I call a resurrection experience, similar to the seed parables of the Christian Gospels and so many other sacred texts that deal with death and rebirth. So, too, in our funeralization rites and rituals, we can describe the bereavement experiences as being broken open, the seeds of transformation planted, receiving the waters of life experience, wisdom, and then resurrecting as transformed beings. The final transformed being that emerges from the antemortem, pre-bereavement person becoming the post-mortem mourner doing his or her grief work, implementing coping and support resources, and finally healing and growing, differs with each unique situation, and it’s what makes my vocation that much more exciting and rewarding because each call presents its own unique set of challenges and opportunities.
I’ve often taught that Death is not an enemy; we just have to embrace it and befriend it. We often look at things we can’t control as the enemy; that’s a modern mistake in our relationship with everything from relatives to the line at the supermarket to the neighbor’s dog to the mysteries of life, including death. Death is not the enemy; our modern tendency to think that everything, including creation, needs to be controlled, dominated, subdued. As soon as we find that we can’t do that we avoid or deny the situation until it can no longer be denied, and then we curse it. That’s unfortunate because we could enjoy life so much more if only we would accept the humility that brings peace to our lives. To do so would mean that we have to be silent and most of today’s humanity has been taught that silence is bad; movement, no matter how frenetic, noise, no matter how cacophonous, is a sign of life. That’s how we have lost touch with our innermost self, the core of our humanity, and we have become animate tools, an insidious but real violation of a basic moral principle: Human beings should never be used as means to an end.
I have found that most families whom I have served over the years have lived in denial of the inevitability of our 100% mortality rate. As the result, when Death ultimately pays a visit they are caught 100% unprepared, are shocked by the fact that a death has occurred, are devastated that so many decisions have to be made NOW, completely confused by the bureaucratic complexities of just getting the deceased moved, and once moved, bombarded by a bombastic but “compassionate” salesperson dressed up as a funeral director, and floored by the financial burdens of just one death. “Now that’s what we would suggest, but if you’d like to keep it simpler, we can also offer…” Sound familiar? As a bereavement chaplain trained in a seminary college, I often have to recall one of the first things my deathcare instructors repeated: “The bereaved should never make a major decision in the first year following the loss.” But arranging for the final disposition of a dead human being, a loved one who has died, is a major decision, one of the most major decisions some of my clients will ever have to make, and that major decision — or at least elements of the major decision — have to be made within mere hours of the major loss and in the 2-3 days following the major loss. So now what do we do?
“Would you like us to bring along our chaplain?”
Well, too few funeral homes, too few funeral directors and no funeral service groups and corporations tend to involve a chaplain in the initial family meeting or the arrangements conference. In fact, I know of none who involve a chaplain after receiving the first call. Wouldn’t it be great if one of the questions asked during the first call conversation would be, “Would you like us to bring along our chaplain?” In the hours immediately following the death the family is most receptive to the idea of having a spiritual care provider in their midst — not to talk but just to be present, perhaps just to listen quietly, just to be there if needed — at least that’s been my experience in my hospital chaplaincy work.
Too few funeral homes, too few funeral directors and — to my knowledge and in my experience — no funeral service groups or corporation arrangement meeting guidelines recommend that a chaplain be present at the arrangements conference. I’m usually called after the arrangements conference and have to put the family through the ordeal of repeating so much that I could have gleaned from simply sitting next to the funeral director or the arranger during the arrangements conference. Quite frankly, it’s beyond me why this is so.
Worse still, too many amateurs are allowed to inject themselves into the incredibly complex mix of emotions, physical reactions, social intricacies, and spiritual questions, and amateurs tend to complicate things beyond anyone’s expectations. When I use the term “amateurs” I mean people who are only minimally trained in spirituality, in psychospiritual care, people who read a book or take a course and are miraculously transformed into a being with privileged and extraordinary knowledge. Fact is, they’re amateurs.
Bereavement chaplaincy, psychospiritual care is a vocation and spans a wide range of interdisciplinary subject matter. Many of us have graduate degrees in at least two specialities. Most of us have degrees in pastoral care, theological studies, divinity. Many of us have degrees in psychology or the humanities. Many of us have either formally or informally studied mortuary science and understand and appreciate what the funeral director has been taught; perhaps we are not licensed to embalm or to operate a funeral home but we have made every conceivable effort to know what makes them tick. Many of us attend regular continuing education courses and conferences, and maintain programs of continuing awareness. Many of us are members of professional associations. And many of us study, study, study to be able to provide the most comprehensive care possible.
As an on-call chaplain or chaplain “in residence” I have also made special efforts at understanding the protocols of hospice and the role of spiritual care in hospice environments; the same is true regarding palliative care. Hospice, palliative care, hospital, nursing home pastoral care providers differ considerably in their protocols and practices; as a bereavement chaplain serving funeral homes and providing post-funeralization aftercare, I have to pick up where hospice, palliative care, hospital and nursing home staff — some of them ordained amateurs — have left off or, in some cases, dropped the ball!
Some funeral service operators whether independent funeral homes or corporate funeral service groups need to learn that the chaplain is not the enemy. Mainstream clergy — those priests, ministers who run parishes and congregations as part of a mainstream institutionalized religious community (I specifically do not include here rabbis, imams or priests of Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.) do view the bereavement chaplain as an interloper cutting into their revenues. But a more compassionate view would be to accept the chaplain as an ally, someone with whom they should be collaborating instead of undermining and disparaging. Why? Well tackling the first proposition that the chaplain cuts into their revenues, I can say that most clergy will show up with Holy Scripture tucked under one arm and swinging a rosary in the other hand, machine gun a couple of verses or race through a couple decades of a rosary and then be off, tucking a hefty check into their pockets. Even funeral masses and church services are cookie-cutter and generally unconvincing. But they bring in the bucks.
Funeral directors are not stupid either. Most will get real cozy with a local congregation or the local priests and ministers, wining and dining them, ensuring that they have the local clergy in their pockets and then putting out the funeral-home sponsored annual free calendar promoting their funeral home in the vestibule of the church or temple. Pastor gets a call when a local family loses a loved one and recommends John Smith Funeral Home. Bingo! It’s a win-win for both the pastor and the funeral director.
So, given the choice between the 15-minute Wham! Bam! Amen! cookie-cutter commendation-committal combo offered by the local pastor and the hour-long in-house commendation or memorial service with the 20 minute graveside or committal service offered by the chaplain/officiant, the funeral director will play his best, winning hand regardless of the quality of the service or the therapeutic effects — or lack thereof — on the bereaved and the mourning community. After all, for both the funeral director and the pastor the adage “Time is Money” applies with few exceptions.
But the difference between the chaplain and the parish priest or deacon or the congregation minister is that the chaplain is a specialist in psychospiritual care, especially end-of-life and deathcare, something few pastors can claim. Furthermore, the chaplain has the knowledge and experience to guide the bereaved through a complicated process, which may take the investment of hours of time, something that few if any pastors will do unless there’s a bequest or an estate to consider, or the deceased was a community leader. The chaplain is not concerned with what the faith tradition prescribes or what the faith community expects; the chaplain’s concern is directed and focused on the care of the bereaved, how they are coping, navigating them through the mourning process, healing, transformation, and reintegration. Neither the funeral director nor the pastor is in a position to tackle such a situation. In fact, most funeral directors and pastors are really interested in getting that involved in the process of grief work.
This means that the bereaved and the mourning community are short-changed; they’re cheated out of the full transformational experience of offered by the personalized funeral ritual that offers profound psychospiritual support and paves the way to healing and transformation, making grief less traumatic and life more promising.
When secular funeral professionals and pastoral ministers collude and conspire together under any pretence or for any reason whatsoever, they betray the trust traditionally conferred upon them by the community, they cheat the bereaved and the mourning community, and worse still, they set an fundamentally evil precedent! The resulting situation is not only regrettable, it’s reprehensible. Why? Because most persons who are in the traumatic throes of acute grief are in an altered psychospiritual state; they are not thinking right and see the world in a confused vision. They tend to grasp trustingly at any straw coming their way and think that it will save them. Regrettably, most funeral service providers and clergy take fullest advantage of that to spew their respective “pitches” whether it be merchandizing or pabulum preaching. Both disguise a cookie cutter as a life preserver!
In reality, the funeral director, whether independent or corporate, is interested in getting the case processed and closed within the shortest time possible without traumatizing the bereaveds’ sense of decency — assuming that the bereaved have any such sense — and getting on with the next removal. The pastor has to prepare his sermon, supervise the bible study groups, plan the religious education curriculum, discuss the music with the music director, meet with the parish council, and make time to have dinner with the local funeral director(s). Tough life for both, right?
My message, if I may presume to state it in so many words, is that funeral directors and pastoral ministers or pastoral clergy must take their fiduciary duties and obligations ethically seriously, they must play fairly and remember their privileged role in the community. When I say they must play fairly and remember their privileged role in the community I mean that they must respect boundaries, admit their limitations, and practice true humility in compassion. Funeral directors and pastoral ministers must be ready to admit that they can’t do everything, that they don’t have the training or experience to do some things, and that they have to stop deceiving their respective publics by shamelessly representing or misrepresenting that that are masters of all trades.
While I would like to pass on some of the responsibility for this deplorable state of affairs, essentially caused and exploited by spurious funeralization practices both on the profane and the religious planes, on the shoulders of the consumer of funeralization and religious services, I can’t do that with very great confidence or credibility. The reason I can’t do that in the majority of cases is stated at the beginning of this essay, in a nutshell: They are simply so traumatized and confused by the complexity of circumstances surrounding a death that they have to legally, physically, practically and spiritually rely on others to help them through it all. It is here that the so-called professionals fail in their basic duties and obligations and not only the bereaved, but all of society suffer the deleterious effects caused by these two professions, the funeral director and the clergy, alone.
Death is not just natural. Death is not just inevitable. Death is not just a loss. Death is a set of circumstances that sets into motion a vast array of complex responses and reactions in a process that can either be destructively or constructively transformational at the personal, community and societal levels. It is the vocation of the bereavement chaplain to provide the psychospiritual armamentarium to ensure that the transformation is constructive, healing, and nurtures positive growth and reintegration into life.
Peace to you and joy! May you be blessed in this New Year 2018 with health in mind, body and spirit!
Rev. Ch. Harold W. Vadney