19 March 2009

Seminarians: do NOT be bullied! (Updated)

[NB. Mar 30: Again, thanks so much for the informative comments in the combox. I am delighted to hear that the CPE has not always been an odious task for seminarians. I still maintain that our American bishops need to re-evaluate and reform the CPE process for Catholic seminarians so that the unique character of the priestly charism is honored and developed. Though CPE programs have tempered their more abusive practices in recent years, the focus is still too narrowly placed on the therapeutic restructuring of the student's fundamental belief system to accord with mainstream-liberal Protestant norms for counts as ministry to the sick. IOW, too often Catholic seminarians are pressured to hold and practice an essentially anti-sacramental view of ministry to the sick and dying. Why? Because the Catholic sacramental system requires ordained priests to be licit and valid and mainstream-liberal Protestant theology/eccesial politics (both deeply committed to secular-feminist ideology) abhor the all-male, celibate Catholic priesthood.]

NB. Mar 20: Re-reading this post I am a little nervous about the tone. . .I wrote it under the influence of Polaramine--an Italian OTC version of Benadryl--and a nasty head cold. However, I'm not going to change it. What's said needed to be said. I would encourage those who have had good CPE experiences to leave comments. A little balance to my negative experience couldn't hurt!]


This post is intended to incite a rebellion.

I want to encourage and embolden any seminarian--diocesan or religious--who is being forced to complete a course in Clinical Pastoral Education to decide here and now to resist the indoctrination and ideological brainwashing that the Liberal Prot CPE process encourages.

You will be required to complete one summer of this ridiculous zombification. You have no choice. Go in fighting. Wear your habit. Wear your clerical garb. Insist on being authentically, fully, faithfully Catholic. Don't let the moonbat sisters or the Prot "ministers" or the "social justice" priests warp your dedication to the Church's mission to teach and preach the gospel.

During my horrific summer of CPE I was told many times by hospital chaplains that hospital chaplains are the "misfit toys" of the Church. They are the rejects of their denominations. This doesn't mean that they are bad people or bad Christians. But it does mean that they are unfit to form the hearts and minds of Catholic seminarians.

Let's be absolutely clear here: Clinical Pastoral Education is nothing more than a systematic "weeding out" of orthodox seminarians through a process of enforced radical leftist indoctrination. I survived b/c I was 37 years old and had years of working in mental health institutions under my belt. I was able to manipulate the system using the rhetoric and strategy of victimization that seemed to garner the attention of the administration. In other words, I knew how to position myself as the underdog in a system dominated by radical leftist queer/liberationists supervisors. They didn't dare push me into a corner. I knew the system too well. In fact, at the end of my ordeal, I received an apology from the director of chaplaincy services and a glowing CPE report. Anything less would have resulted in a lengthy and detailed report from me to Archbishop Rigali.

To the seminarians who are embarking on CPE: do NOT let these people intimidate you or in any way dissuade you from being fully, authentically Catholic. Listen. Learn. Take what you will. But DEMAND that your Catholic identity be respected. DEMAND that your understanding of your priestly vocation be respected. Do NOT let these people bully you. If they try, call them out. Tell them to stop bullying you. Report them to your bishop. Keep detailed records. Names, dates, times, quotes. I wish I had done this. Do not hesitate to bring bullying incidents to your supervisor and your bishop.

These people have power over you and they will use it to derail your vocation if you dare to oppose them. Document, document, document!

Can you learn something from CPE? You better believe it! I did. But I learned in spite of the goofy new-agey bullshit that passed for Catholic pastoral care at SLUH. I learned from the patients and their families. I learned from the nurses and doctors. I also learned from the chaplains. . .I learned exactly how NOT to be a Catholic minister.

Go in confident. Assured. Eager to learn. Open to being wrong. But go in with a clear sense of being Roman Catholic. And don't be duped by lefty Prot religious psychologies and purely political ideologies.

Write to me if you have any problems. . .I will gladly advise and assist any seminarian who is approaching this gauntlet. No names. Leave a comment with contact info, and I will contact you privately. We will assume the seal!

Unsigned comments will be deleted. Permission is given to re-post or reprint with attribution for non-commercial use only.


  1. Anonymous4:23 PM


    If this comment is out of place feel free to delete it, but something you said raised a general question for me. I'm in the process now of applying for acceptance into the Augustinian Order. If all goes well, next year I will live in community as a pre-novice, and then I will head out to Racine, WI for the novitiate.

    In your post here you mentioned about seminarians wearing the habit. One thing I've decided a while back is that if I am blessed to be accepted into the Order that I will wear my habit almost all the time, as the habit helps me to live according to the simplicity built into the vow of poverty, and it serves as a visible sign that is so important to our sacramental wordlview as Catholics. My question is, I know after completing the novitiate I will receive the black habit of the Order. Is there any sort of general observance in religious life as far as when it is appropriate or inappropriate for a seminarian who has yet to profess final solemn vows to wear the habit? I know this is some time in the future for me, but since you mentioned it I just thought I'd ask. Thanks!


  2. I am acquainted with seminarians here in Ireland who are tormented on a daily basis for their allegiance to the faith. Sad that the Church's worst enemies are those in her bounds. It seems that liberal Catholics are only liberal towards the heterodox.

  3. Ironically I was in the ER the other morning with some nasty back/side pain. While I was waiting for some test results I prayed the Divine Mercy chaplet and the chaplin came in. I'm guessing he was protestant (at a Methodist hospital, go figure). He kept staring at my rosary like it was going to jump up and bite him. It was funny in a twisted, non-ecumenical way.

  4. I did CPE at Santa Rosa Hospital in San Antonio, Texas as a deacon. I wore my habit every day and I was actually very much appreciated as a religious. The habit made a huge impact in the pastoral ministry I did that summer. The program was under the direction by a woman by the name of Mary Davis. She was excellent - nothing crazy. I was fearful of wacko programs, but I actually had a very good experience there & I never had to be anything other than a faithful Catholic transitional deacon. A little encouragement for those who might be forced to do CPE!

  5. Thanks be to God I had a fairly sane CPE experience. The director was not that interested in turning me into a lib-prot clone. However, some of my seminary brothers did not have such a pleasant time. It is very sad to note that the worst stories come from supervisors who are religious sisters. That is not an exaggeration in the least bit!

    Also, I did my CPE in Hershey, PA, and the whole town smelled like a delicious brownie!

  6. Anonymous6:36 PM

    Truer words never spoken. I (a Prot minister) survived mine. The value was the 'sink or swim' aspect of being with and working with people in acute and chronic situations. But the programmed aspect of it -- reading crappy books, interpersonal relations (IPR), verbatims, etc etc -- was useless. Preach it, brother!

  7. As you mentioned, CPE doesn't have to be a bad experience. I had heard so many horror stories before going in that I was pleasantly surprised to be in a good program.

    But I applied to several different sites. I ended up choosing the non-Catholic site because it seemed the most sane and apolitical. Maybe because it was a Level II Trauma Center, people had to keep the main thing the main thing.

    More on my CPE experience here.

  8. I had the "opportunity" to spend a summer in CPE. The hospital was a faithful Catholic hospital, the chaplain I worked with was a faithful Catholic, and I learned a lot from my shifts in the hospital.

    The CPE classes themselves were pretty much worthless. At best, they were a rehashing of everything that I had covered through 7 years of seminary formation. At worst, they were a complete waste of time.

    I agree with Fr. Philip. Take what's good from the summer, dispose of the rest. I always hate the mindset of "just play the game", but with CPE, just play the game. Do what you have to do to pass and move on with your studies.

  9. Anonymous10:01 PM

    I will be doing CPE this summer. Luckily I had the choice between several programs which allowed me to avoid Rev. Mrs's and aging hippy heterodoxes going with a younger, solid man who although is not Catholic seems to get it.

  10. The frustrating part is that this could be REALLY good, and it could be useful for dealing with people of all faiths in a high-stress setting, with good counseling foundations. Most programs, sadly, are about beating up anyone who shows faith -- unless it's the "right" non-specific/hyper-liberal kind of faith.

  11. Anonymous11:58 PM

    Powerful post. Did you have any experience in Texas, or elsewhere for that matter, with the concept of Futile Care Laws as a Chaplain? These laws allow a hospital to cease care/treatment if their 'ethics committee' votes for it, even against the patient's or caretaker's wishes. In effect, euthanasia under cover of an ethics committee. Houston has plenty of examples of the futility of these futile care laws and the co-opted nature of the health system and ethics committees including Catholic chaplains, deacons, etc... it is horriffic really. I cannot see how a Catholic can participate on these ethics committees, as I know they have done, and inflict death-causing decisions for people, including fellow Catholics. Sacred Heart of Jesus, pray for us!

  12. Anon.,

    I had one opportunity to call an ethics cmte investigation. I won't go into details, but the situation was simply ridiculous. I documented everything and brought the petition. The hospital admin set a hearing date...the day after my CPE program ended. Apparently, they didn't like my conclusions.

  13. Just for the record, I haven't done CPE. But I've known many who have and have never heard of it being this extremely bad an experience. I have heard that it is a bit of a challenge being Catholic after being in often entirely Catholic situations prior to this experience mixed in with people going through ordination processes in other communions, not to mention everyone in the hospital! But that can be a good challenge.

    Also, I know at least three hospital chaplains who chose that vocation by strong preference and ability--definitely not "rejects".

    Having said all that--it's clear that most CPE programs are run by people affiliated with liberal Protestant communions. And the potential (and I assume reality) for incredible abuse is strong.

  14. Anonymous8:27 AM

    I did CPE almost 30 years ago, and to tell the truth, I didn't have a very good experience with the program. (And I am a woman, so it isn't just the seminarians out there.) But let's not forget what it is for, really. It is for learning to be with people at a point in their life when they are scared and hurting - and not be scared of that yourself. It is about learning what to say that might make people feel better, not worse. It is about sharing your faith without coming on like a steamroller. It is about showing the healing face of Christ to people in a way they can accept rather than reject. It also about learning a bit about yourself. What you should never do, what you tend to do that can be modified, what you really can do, when you are open to the Spirit giving you the power.

    I went through the program a long time ago, as I said, but I've also been in ministry the whole time since. I've probably learned a few more things along the way (I hope), but I would hesitate to say that CPE was not at the foundation of my ability to help folks through a crisis - to meet them as they come and help them move to a place they would rather be.

    There are some bad programs out there with stupid agendas. But you can learn something valuable from any of them.

  15. Anonymous10:10 AM

    The reactionary in me says that you are inciting a counter-rebellion, but I suppose that is a quibble.

    Document! Document! Document! Advice not just for religious, but for anyone who works with others and smells something fishy. Document the fish. Document the smell. Document the hint of a smell. Document the state of your nasal passages that morning. It's like fire insurance. If no fire happens, then ok, it was a waste. If there is a fire however...

  16. That is amazing. I am doing some under-grad seminary work, I had been a chaplain's assistant at a Franciscan Hospital. It was a little bit of a nightmare. I was told by the head Chaplain, that clerical attire was innapropriate, no outward religious symbols, crosses, etc. The scariest thing for me as a freshment in college doing the communion of the sick was being told that I must give communion to everyone, they didn't differentiate between denominations.

  17. Anonymous3:25 PM

    I took CPE at Deaconess Hospital in Evansville, IN in the early 1970s. (It was 1 afternoon a week for a semester; rather different from what is called CPE today). The program was led by a wise and humble Methodist minister who "got it" where Catholic priesthood preparation was concerned. Both he and the seminary insisted that we wear clericals, since we were ministering in the Church's name. We had to write the dreaded verbatims, but he used them as a tool to help us improve our listening skills. 35+ years later, I am still grateful for this program. I guess I avoided some of the more looney aspects of CPE.

  18. Anonymous4:08 PM

    I took CPE at a Catholic hospital in Boston as the sex abuse/Cardinal Law events unfolded.

    Imagine THAT experience.

    To wit: CPE can be a horrifying and humiliating experience.

    BUT - If you have to go, DON'T WRITE OFF CPE. You will definitely learn something very important!

    I disagree with some posters who say you learn about 'high strees' circumstances, or being 'with people where they are at in life'.

    Believe it or not, CPE is not about hospital ministry or responding to the sick patients and their families.

    The sick aren't in the beds or wards: they're in the CPE program with you.

    Let me explain:

    After 5 years of parish ministry, the one thing I now see is that the Protestant ministry students, the hostile nuns, the angry Catholic women who want to be priests, the name-callers and uber-libs are a foreshadowing of some of your parishioners.

    IMO, so many people try to 'work out' their anger, passions, woundedness by trying to 'serve' - for some, that is through ministry.

    So all the group processing was a way of preparing for the inevitable conflicts and abuse you're going to find among your flock and your staff.

    What better way than to be inoculated during CPE, so that you can see the disease in the future? And you know what? You'll also learn something about yourself, if you dare to recognize - and acknowlege - that you too are a man in need of the Grace of Jesus Christ, just like everyone else.

    So don't back down when they say, "How do you feel about that?" You too can say, "what I hear you saying is...." or "I really want to resonate with what you're saying....", or "help me to understand your pain" or "If your tears could talk, what would it be saying?"

    Approach CPE with the desire to learn and recognize the 'signs'. If you do, then you won't have wasted your time!

    And Fr. Philip is right: DON'T BE BULLIED! Just listen alot, bide your time, ask questions directly and pointedly when you can, and don't be afraid of the group arrayed against you! Christus Vincit!

    You can take 'em all on if but you remain faithful, unapologetic about yourself, your vocation, your faith, and are prepared!

    And smile (genuinely, of course) - it drives some of them crazy because they can't stand to see seminarians actually happy and well-balanced about celibacy and their vocation! :)

  19. I, Patrick J. Cullinan, Jr., of Brooklyn, New York, assert before the Tribunal of Heaven that Fr. Philip's blog entry is the best thing I've heard from a priest in 66 years, except of course for Fr. Patrick Peyton, Bp. Sheen, and Fr. George Rutler, but these came up short on the point of strong language. I was gratified by the clarity and fitness of the comments, and by the righteousness of the "Prot" commentator. It's 2 A.M. in Brooklyn and I'm working off a towering fit of purple rage provoked by Congress's 300-100 vote to study plans to establish universal, compulsory, involuntary servitude under the color of a "National Civilian Security Force." Give 'em heck and God be with us. I'll retire now to Bedlam.

  20. Anonymous6:11 AM


    I've been ordained since 2003. Before that I spent 9 years in 3 diocesan seminaries, and I experienced both the best and the worst that US seminaries have to offer. Let me just say that the 2002 scandals came as no surprise, and leave it at that.

    I would offer a caveat to your comments.

    You are right to encourage the seminarians to maintain their integrity. The last thing we need is a bunch of lukewarm priests. However, I would also exhort them to prudence, meekness, and charity.

    For instance, I would definitely encourage them to imitate the silence of St. Joseph, choosing wisely whether it is prudent to speak out. Keeping silent in a situation in which one does not have control anyway is quite different from lying or compromising oneself. I've seen many a good man sucked into needless conflicts with faculty members because of not curbing their tongues.

    Think of yourself as a fish with a lure being swept past you. Tempting though it is to pounce upon it, often it will only be to your own demise. Stoic discipline is in order. If you cannot change the status quo, then keep your mouth shut. If you can, then do so with courage.

    Even with some of the craziest formators I knew over the years, my experience generally was that if they liked you on a human level, they would not (for the most part) fight you over your orthodoxy. It is a Christlike thing to relate to every human person with respect and dignity. If they feel like you respect them, then when you do offer disagreement they are less likely to try to sink your ordination.

    The "clever as serpents, gentle as doves" exhortation definitely comes to mind. Obviously, one does not ever want to compromise moral standards or become in any way dishonest. But one can be clever so as to avoid unneeded traps.

    So I agree with those who encourage doing CPE with a Protestant rather than a Catholic group. The Protestant groups will more likely be curious to listen to what you have to say (rather than ramming a know-it-all agenda down your throat). They will come expecting to be "judged" by the Catholics. If they find that you are also respectful and listening to what they have to say, they will generally give you a glowing review, even if you take a strong stand on your Catholic identity (which they will expect you to do anyway).

    I also encourage guys strongly to choose an external forum faculty member who will "be in his corner," as it were, during the faculty evals. With a spiritual director or confessor, pick someone who will challenge you, but for the external forum, build up all the allies you can. Unfortunately, that is sometimes needed, especially when faculty members with no pastoral experience take a single comment or single incident and blow it out of proportion.

    Above all, I would encourage huge devotion to Our Lady Seat of Wisdom to be preserved from all error and heresy, and to have the prudence to know when and how to combat them, and when and how to remain silent.

  21. Anonymous10:11 AM

    I, too, am a recovering seminarian, from Chicago.

    I concur with what is said here about the stupidity of Catholic seminarians having to do CPE... after 3-8 years of formation--admittedly not always the best, but certainly better than what our poor 'classmates' get at CPE--we are so far ahead of the game that it is a waste of time (at best) or an effort to tear down what has been diligently built (at worst).

    I think every seminarian needs to have a significant hospital experience... this is part of the priesthood, for sure. But not under the CPE model. Seminarians need to be introduced to this ministry by a competent, capable, loving, Catholic priest who can mentor them in this very difficult environment.

    Here's what I have to add to the discussion: "follow the money".

    At my seminary, CPE was a requried course the summer before diaconate ordination (when one should be doing a 30 day retreat or working in a parish or, God forbid, already be ordained and doing serious diaconal ministry.) As a required course, the seminary charged tuition for the summer quarter of the outside dioceses and, no doubt, whatever pocket seminarian training money comes from in the host diocese.

    The tuition the seminary paid to the CPE programs was minimal... usually on the order of a couple hundred dollars, if anything. On top of that, we felt really out-of-this-world rich that they would give us a per diem for food and pay our rent at a rectory or somewhere else... all tolled, that would run, what, $1500, maybe? Considering that the seminary charged something on the order of $5k for the 'opportunity' to do CPE, they got to pocket the rest.

    There was great fear in the eyes of seminary administration when there was a mini-revolt among my classmates. Unfortunately we did not have enough vocations directors or bishops standing up for us.

    "Follow the money", friends.

    To the guys who have to do it, there is a saying: "shut up and color". Play the game. Get through it. Respectfully speak your peace. Make sure your bishop knows your thoughts beforehand and your experiences afterwards... and then drop it. (Which is obviously something I have not managed to do, sadly.) God is present even in these moments. When you become pastors and vocation directors and bishops, this insanity will end soon enough.

    Heck, my guess is that, except for a focus for protestant or feminist rage, they don't really want these much-better formed and educated and dedicated men in the program anyway.

  22. Anonymous12:07 PM


    I am a seminarian in second theology. We are asked to do CPE for our formation during the summer after our second year. This means that I will be doing it this summer. Luckily, I will be going to Atlanta where I have family and the seminary has allowed me to stay with them. Also, there is a church close to where I will be so I will be able to make daily mass. Essentially, outside of the program itself, I should have a large sense of normalcy.

    With that said, our seminary adopted the CPE mandate sometime in the 80s. I get a sense that with all the changes that are happening at seminaries across the country that CPE may be on the way out. Unfortunately, that change has not happened yet at my seminary.

    Now, I have no doubt that I will be able to maintain my Catholic identity, at least as far as principles are concerned. I have enough knowledge of the truths of our faith at this point that nothing they (the left) can say will rock my foundation. However, as I want to be a future priest of Jesus Christ, I cannot enter into this program defiant in any way. Basically, I have to take the smile, nod, (do not clap), approach and walk away when confronted with stupidity. I will not be allowed to wear clerics and if I do, I will bring more trouble on myself than it is worth.

    There is a "line" seminarians have to draw between standing up for truth, and staying under the radar. Sometimes we have to fight the urge just to shut up, because we know that it is in our best interest if we want to become priest in a timely manner.

    For me, the real problem is not CPE, but rather is the left over formators who believe that our summers are best served doing a program like CPE.

    As in all things, I will try to draw out of CPE what is applicable to my future ministry, while at the same time do my best to not compromise any truth of our faith. I will make sure to bring with me the Code of Canon law as well as the Catechism of the Catholic Church so that if I am asked to do anything dumb (like Baptize a baby who has already passed away), I can back up my response with Church teaching.

    I ask that you keep me in your prayers, because even though I believe our summers could be better spent, I still want to be obedient at all times to formation. I know that the Holy Spirit is intimately involved in my life and thus there can be good drawn out of my summer experience in CPE. Pray that I will be able to sift through the garbage and draw out the good.

    God Bless!

  23. I entered the seminary in 1997, at the age of 48. I took the CPE training in the summer of 2000. The CPE instructor was a pastor in the United Church of Christ, and he was assisted by a female Jewish Rabbi. Both he and the assistant were quite able in their roles, though I sensed early on that their perspectives were distinctly different from my own on a number of key issues. Toward the end of the course, I felt the assistant had, wittingly or unwittingly, impugned the motives and/or sense of the Catholic position on homosexuality, and I asked her, point blank, if she regarded Catholics as bigots.

    This was not the only time I confronted her or the principal instructor, but it was probably the most tense moment in my CPE experience. In spite of this, I regarded their instruction and their evaluations to be reasonably fair and objective, with one important caveat. The instructor noted on my evaluation that he felt I had underlying anger issues that I had not yet dealt with. As it happens, I was later diagnosed with dysthymia, a chronic, low grade depression, and unresolved anger is, at least theoretically, a possible cause. Since I knew about my depression and the possible etiology, I did not feel qualified to challenge his comment. I let it stand. Apart from this, his assessment was quite positive.

    As far as I know, this did not have an especially adverse impact on my record. If anything, it helped me to be more sensitive to the likelihood that others could misunderstand my emotional reactions to things through observation of my generally low affect, particularly when I get upset about something.

    Many of my fellow seminarians regarded the CPE experience to be heavily challenging, if not downright brutal. I believe that would be particularly true for the great majority of the younger seminarians, who hadn't yet gotten their feet wet in human confrontation, psychology, theology, philosophy, sociology or history. I don't know if they might benefit from a pre-CPE seminar. It's hard to know how to make up for the general naivety of youth in any brief time. The seminary, itself, is supposed to provide peer support, and this is generally quite effective, especially when those who had the CPE share their personal horror stories.

    One thing about your note struck a particular chord. I believe it is essential for a seminarian to "wear the colors" not so much in their style of dress as in their sense of being Roman Catholic. If they enter CPE training unsure of that Catholic identity, they're likely to have a roller coaster ride as brutal as attending a Jesuit run university as a freshman.

  24. I'm a former seminarian and I went through CPE almost three years ago. I count myself very lucky to have had a great supervisor, a good group, and a healthy environment in which to learn. I heard a depressing number of horror stories to the point that I regard my CPE experience as rather unique.

    I'd agree with everyone who said that there are valuable things to learn in the program, even if the content is... sometimes crappy. (please indulge my euphemism there)

    It's a tough question, with seminarian formation being conducted by those of a previous generation. (euphemism again) I left the seminary due to discernment. There was no bitterness or acrimony, and there still isn't. Yet the worst thing you could be called by a formation director was not "lazy" or "uncommitted" but RIGID. It was the exact opposite of open-mindedness, the pre-eminent liberal cardinal virtue.

    In light of that dirty, five-letter word, I would second the advice to seminarians who have to take CPE: play the game. Faithful to the truth, yes. Committed to the Church and her teachings, yes. Obedient, yes. Cunning as serpents and innocent as doves? Yes. Documenting is a great idea, too. That way, if a formation director turns the question on the seminarian ("Why do you have a problem with people who don't agree with you?"), the seminarian could calmly produce hard evidence. More than anything else, those two things help you protect yourself. I don't believe that's being overly cynical about the Church/the seminary/whatever. It's just realistic.

    My question as I finished CPE--and maybe you priests can cause a ruckuss in your diocese?--why don't a few dioceses get together and create their own CPE-like program??? As was said before by Fr. Phil, it's a Protestant program. When Catholic priests go to a hospital, it looks much different than the clinical visits in CPE. It's SACRAMENTAL. Naturally, there's nothing about the sacrament of the anointing of the sick in CPE. Why not build a Catholic hospital training program for seminarians? They could take the best of CPE... make it a regional effort... have daily prayers and Mass incorporated into it. Would it really be that hard?

  25. My experience of CPE was grace-filled and and a wonderful experience despite the leader (a female methodist minister). I focused on the patients and hospital staff, spent as much time as I could with the 2 Catholic priests who were also fulltime chaplains, and had the support of the men in my community when I got home.

    An important thing to remember is that a Catholic priest can minister to anyone using CPE techniques or even better, using Jesus' example. But, only a Catholic priest can minister to Catholics-- absolve, anoint, housel. The other five members of my group, none of them Catholic all got that. The leader didn't. A priest is indispensible. Protestant ministers and other non-ordained are not, and they know it. And they both fear and despise you for it because you threaten their reason for being. It's them, not you. So stand up for the Faith and your Vocation.

    I wore clerics or a habit despite being told not to. I told the director that as a vowed religious that's how I dress. Period. Be prudent, but if you're in vows, you have the right to wear a habit or clerics and the patients and hospital staff appreciate it.

  26. Anonymous9:07 PM

    I especially liked Father D.'s comment: "Imitate the silence of St. Joseph, choosing wisely whether it is prudent to speak out . . . I've seen many a good man sucked into needless conflicts with faculty members because of not curbing their tongues."

    This sounds a lot like: "Pick your battles wisely" with "Ask yourself, is this the hill you want to die on?" and "Live to fight another day." These are hard lessons to learn when you're passionate about your faith. It's so easy to "rush in, where angels fear to tread," but unfortunately the baddies gain the upper hand when we do this.

  27. Marion,

    I would agree with you...these CPE stories and the lessons they impart are substantial! Maybe there should be a book...

    Prudence is key. Like I said in my post, I was 37, very experienced in battling ideological enemies, and I held a PhD. IOW, I was not a 24 yo kid straight outta undergrad school. That makes a huge difference.

  28. Yes! YES! There should be a book!!! And, Father, if YOU write it, I promise to buy a gross of them and fling it any and all seminarians/scholastics who blip my sonar.

    This counter-revolution needs its Von Clausewitz or Sun Tzu.



  29. Anonymous6:27 PM

    CPE taught me how to lie. It taught me to get the group to turn on someone else so that I didn't get to be "it" in IPR. It taught me to avoid rolling my eyes when obvious manipulation and game playing was going on. Fortunately the head chaplain wasn't too ideological. As a priest I advise seminarians to avoid CPE. I helped on seminarian to do some good. He worked in an infant critical care unit and I taught him how to baptize in danger of death. He baptized 5 babies before they died. Also he read a lot of JPII on the nature of suffering. But he learned in spite of the program rather then because of it. How did CPE make me feel? Bad, really really bad.
    Fr. J

  30. Anonymous12:43 PM

    Fr. Phillip,
    Peace to you. I just wanted to comment on your post about the CPE program. As I read your comments, I couldn't help but think back on my CPE experience and the fun I had standing up for who I am, and for my Faith. In reality, I must admit that while there were some difficult moments in standing up to my supervisor, I never stepped away from being Catholic and a Brother in service to this beautiful Church. I also consider myself blessed because in my particular group there were two Catholic seminarians and we were able to support each other as needed. My advice to any Catholic seminarian who is being bullied is to stand up for who you are and for the Church, while the battle may be difficult, remain faithful and Christ will be your source of strength. In the chaplaincy program I was in, there was one Brother from another congregation who went by his first name, I insisted on being called Brother. This is who God is calling me to be, and no one can take that away. Thank you again for your words and God bless you.

  31. Anonymous8:04 PM

    As a former seminary professor I agree with your blog. The CPE experience should be taken over by Catholic seminary formators and not outsource this useful hospital training to protestant or liberal psychologists who think that every religious affection is a neurosis that might be imposed upon unsuspecting hospital patients.

    signed, hopeful for the revolution

  32. Father,

    I am actually given some latitude in my CPE, and am allowed to read two books on pastoral care. Do you have any Catholic books you could recommend?

  33. Robert,

    I don't. All of the books used in my pastoral care classes were awful. Psychobabbly, "pastoral" as in "not what the Church teaches," or just plain useless.

    Honestly, as an academic subject, I think pastoral theology is a crock. It tries to make an academic study out of what any sensible, well-mannered, caring person would do when confronted by someone in need. There are good books out there on spiritual direction that make use of the tradition and help both the director and directee navigate the strange waters of S.D.

    Basically, look for a book that makes no distinction btw "what the Church teaches" and "what counts as being pastoral." The truth is pastoral. Period. Corollary: lying about the faith and its demands is cannot be pastoral. One down and dirty way to check a book is to look at how it suggests you handle the hot button issues in moral theology: divorce, masturbation, same-sex sexual relationships, etc. Dodgy books will elevate "good conscience" over truth and urge you to lead people into a "decision that best fits their needs." That's therapy not pastoral care.

    On the flip side...any book that tells you to brow-beat people with doctrine/dogma or berate their freedom by suggesting that they simply "do what the Church dictates" is also suspect. Why? B/c the Church dictates very little in the way of moral choice and leaves a great deal open when it comes to applying her teachings.

    As I see it, the job f the pastor/SD is to help the person make the best choice that can be made given their circumstances within the truth of the faith. If a Catholic is going to get divorced and remarried, there's little you can do as a pastor to stop them. The most powerful thing you can do is stand by the truth and challenge them to take their faith seriously. This is not going to make you popular. But if you're becoming a priest in order to be popular, let me urge you into a another field.

  34. I have had one unit (internship) and 8 weeks of a second unit, the first unit of a one-year, 3-unit residency, here in Indianapolis, at Clarian Health Systems.

    Clarian has two full-time Catholic priests who are from Africa. Where they are from is significant. There simply are not enough priests in chaplaincy, and the US is importing priests to cover the needs in institutions beyond parish ministry.

    With these priests, I had several run-ins involving placing notes for them in official orders in patient charts, asking them to see Catholic patients for pastoral conversation. These priests fairly consistently resisted simple visits. To be sure, I would try to connect Catholic patients with their parish priests first. When it seemed this would not work out, asking the hospital priests to visit was tantamount to an insult.

    I have wondered if perhaps the priests resented being called upon (in medical language of the charting software: "ordered") by a woman to make a patient visit. I also have wondered if they consider sacramental obligations as the only reason they are there.

    In fact, one of the priest chaplains gave me a booklet of Catholic prayers, including the sacrament of the sick, and "authorized" me -- a protestant lesbian student chaplain -- to pray with Catholic patients instead of initiating an emergency call to them in their off-hours.

    It seems that one way or another, understanding how to work together -- Catholic and protestant, men and women, sacramental or non-sacramental, American and foreign -- is fraught with obstacles.

    To keep working at understanding is the only way. And, as the CPE way would have it, such conflict is the only way to growth, if it is taken up with respect, grace, and patience.

    Anne McWilliams
    Indianapolis, IN

  35. Anne, thank you for your comments.

    Your experiences with foreign born priests is not unusual. Often priests from other countries, esp. those in Africa, have a great deal of difficult working with women. In their own countries, priests have an extraordinarily high social status and the relatively low status of priests in the US is baffling to them.

    Unfortunately, for me, it was the lesbian UCC minister that was the most aggressive, intolerant, alienating, and downright mean to me and my fellow male students. I had to be talked out of filing harassment complaints against her several times. She recklessly and regularly abused her authority as a chaplain and made a habit of ridiculing my faith. Fortunately, for me again, I knew her lingo and was able to turn most of her aggressive moves away.

  36. Anonymous9:58 PM

    I'm a batshit commie social justice leftie female Protestant minister who found CPE to be torture. (I arrived here by Googling "CPE horror stories".)

    I wonder what your Catholic resistance consists of? Telling people that their loved one is in hell because they weren't Catholic? Trying to convert someone on their deathbed by taking advantage of them in a vulnerable state? If not, I'm not sure how Catholics are disrespected in CPE or hospitals. In both my totally secular CPE setting and in the Catholic hospital I'm in now, we work hard to try to provide Catholic patients with Holy Communion and Anointing when they want it. We are, of course, hindered by the fact that we are dependent on the good-will of very hard-working and gracious RC parish Priests to volunteer to do these duties and I always go out of my way to thank them.

    I've been body-blocked by an over-zealous middle-aged son who announced to me - very obviously - "YOU are NOT a Catholic Priest!" when I came to tell him that the priest would be there in a few hours while the patient rolled his eyes at me and nodded vigorously when I offered prayer. And I just ran into a room today to pray "Hail Mary" with a woman whose husband is dying.

    So I'm wondering how batshit Protestant lefties are hurting Catholics in hospitals all over the country?

    1. Protestants can't do anointing. That wouldn't count. People let a Catholic priest do it.

  37. Dear Batshit Crazy Commie,

    I'm very happy to hear that you work hard to help Catholics in your care. I hope you and your colleagues are the norm for secular and non-Catholic hospitals.

    My CPE experience with Catholic and Protestant students was very good. A couple of the male and female Protestant chaplains were helpful. The Jesuit chaplain was a good guy.

    However, the three Dominican sisters in the office were harpies who made my summer hell. There were a couple of female Protestant chaplains who harassed me to the point where I had to threaten to file a harassment complaint with the hospital to get them to stop.

    To your last question: I have no idea. And neither do you.

    The point of this post from 2009 was to call for the US Catholic bishops to create a CPE program that directly addresses the unique clinical-pastoral needs of Catholic seminarians. CPE programs are overwhelmingly geared toward liberal-Protestant students and force Catholic seminarians to conform to the standards and expectations of Protestant pastoral care.

    Imagine if CPE programs were overwhelmingly Catholic in theory and practice. . .and to be eligible for ordination in your Protestant denomination you were required to endure our testosterone-poisoned patriarchal Dark Age mumbo-jumbo for 12 weeks. Any questioning of the program, any perceived opposition, any hesitation to immediately and fully embrace Mother Church's dogmatic CPE agenda would get you flagged, harassed, and threatened with expulsion from your Protestant seminary.

    To ask the quintessential CPE question: how would that make you feel?

  38. Fr. CTK10:31 PM

    Look to the Saint Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota for the future of Catholic Pastoral Education. They are in the second year of a new program that is Catholic centered with none of the nonsense that those of us who had to endure the legacy CPE went through.

  39. Anonymous8:47 AM

    Dear. Fr. Philip,

    I think it would make me feel awful.

    Probably as awful as I felt being harassed by my CPE Supervisor for a year of Residency. Trying to get through because: a) I wanted to get through CPE to be a Chaplain and b) I needed the money.

    and to be eligible for ordination in your Protestant denomination you were required to endure our testosterone-poisoned patriarchal Dark Age mumbo-jumbo for 12 weeks.

    Seriously, what planet are you living on? I guess you must genuinely think that female clergy get nicey-nice treatment from denominations.

    I doubt your "Catholic only" option would solve the problem for you, given that I was harassed AS a batshit commie social justice leftie female Protestant minister BY a a batshit commie social justice leftie male Protestant minister.

    The problem isn't ideology. The problem is that the Supervisors are not genuinely supervised and the review boards are stacked with individuals who the Supervisor hand-picked, so there is no real possibility of appealing to them.

    The theological politics is only the excuse for the harassment. In my case, the Supervisor simply found other excuses.

    1. Anon., I'm right here in Reality Land! Well, I'm a literary-inspired Southerner who enjoys hyperbole. . .so, I was being a bit dramatic with my description of the Catholics only CPE program. My point being: if you as a self-described "batshit crazy commies, etc." seminarian were forced by your denomination to attend a CPE that pushed a view of pastoral view directly opposed to your theology, you wouldn't much like it. My scenario is hyperbolic fantasy. However, this fantasy (in reverse) is exactly what happens to a lot of Catholic seminarians in CPE.

      There were three women in my CPE group. One was a Catholic laywoman and my best friend at the time. She worked in the Childrens' Hospital. The other two were UCC seminarians and had no trouble with any of the chaplains.

      The Dominican sisters who harassed me were angry b/c I wasn't acting like a properly whipped friar. They were used to guilty white baby boomer friars bowing and scraping at their whim. My refusal to be cowed by their radical feminist heresies surprised/angered them. The female UCC and female Episcopalian chaplain--both gay--were just pissed, in general. The UCC chaplain actually grabbed my habit in the elevator and screamed at me one day. . .in front of witnesses. That's when I went to the director and threatened to file charges.

      I don't doubt for a second that you were harassed by your supervisor. From my experience, full-time CPE work seems to draw psychologically unstable individuals who use the process to work out their instabilities, or to inflict their paranoia/anger/denominational isolation on those who have no power to fight back. Since I'm a Catholic priest and religious, I have no voice among Protestants to address the concerns of their seminarians. This post is about the need for a Catholic-centered CPE process to train Catholic seminarians. I'm pleased as punch to have a CPE programs out there for "batshit crazy commie feminists" seminarians. . .just don't force Catholic seminarians to run their gauntlet.

  40. Anonymous8:16 PM

    Hi Father, I was a staff chaplain at SLUH 2003-12. You must have been there before or after my time. I hear what you’re saying about CPE at SLUH. I am a conservative, white, male, Protestant minister. I had my share of run-ins with the kooky nuns. Blessings!

  41. Anonymous8:20 PM

    Hi Father, I was a staff chaplain at SLUH 2003-12. You must have been there before or after my time. I hear what you’re saying about CPE at SLUH. I am a conservative, white, male, Protestant minister. I had my share of run-ins with the kooky nuns. Blessings!

    1. I was there during the summer of 2002. That CPE experience remains one of the worst experiences of my life. . .right up there with my time in Communist China in 1990. Thanks be to God that my supervisor -- a Lutheran -- was supportive. The worst abusers were the Protestant women and one Dominican sister. The male chaplains largely left me alone. But the women were hell-bent on punishing me for not being a leftist, Protestant woman!