All politically charged circumstances have a historical antecedent. Two decades ago, many of you might remember a document called A White Paper: Professional Chaplaincy—Its Role and Importance in Health Care by Larry VandeCreek and Laurel Burton, eds., (The Journal of Pastoral Care, Spring 2001, Vol. 55, No. 1). An extraordinary political statement was made that set the tempo for years to come within professional chaplaincy in North America. The document states:
In North America Chaplains are certified by at least one of the national organizations that sponsored this paper and are recognized by the Joint Commission for Accreditation of Pastoral Care. (p. 85)
- Association of Professional Chaplains
- Association for Clinical pastoral Education
- Canadian Association for Pastoral Practice and Education
- National Association of Catholic Chaplains
- National Association of Jewish Chaplains
Not only is the statement politically charged because it clearly draws a line in the sand, declaring those that remain part of their associations’ membership to be professional chaplains; they also pretend themselves to be the only accreditors that matter in professional chaplaincy in North America. The organizations that authored A White Paper are categorically mistaken and on its face it is a political grab for influence in the chaplaincy profession, whether done consciously or not by the represented collaborators.
Besides the simple fact that there were other organizations in North American professional chaplaincy that remained nameless in the document and were glossed over and treated as invisible to non-existent, those “invisible” organizations are real and credible and train, certify, endorse, and appoint professional chaplains and pastoral counselors throughout the country and abroad. The following are samples of unnamed organizations with professional chaplains and pastoral counselors:
- Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA
- Department of Veterans Affairs Chaplains
- Veterans Affairs National Black Chaplains Association
- The College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy
- American Association of Pastoral Counselors
- Civil Air Patrol Chaplaincy Corp
- Department of Defense Military Chaplains
- Federal Bureau of Prison Chaplains
- International Conference of Police Chaplains
To presume that these other organizations do not have a professional chaplaincy is to be misinformed at the least and in denial at the most. Unfortunately, the dated mass circulation of A White Paper: Professional Chaplaincy (2001) throughout the U.S. hospital system and denominational landscapes gave the impression that the document`s statements were accurate and true. Nevertheless, the politicized statements remain untrue and mistaken to the thinking reader that takes the time to check the facts.
As with all half-truths, they can take on a life of their own and spin-off to create bias against professional chaplains and pastoral counselors unrepresented by the collaborating organizations listed in A White Paper.
It is certainly true that a response to A White Paper was circulated soon after its publication. Unfortunately, the challenge presented could not compete with the mass circulation of A White Paper that was funded by a financial grant from Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation. As with political campaign propaganda, if you have more money, you can buy more time and reach a greater audience with your message. There is no difference here. Financially backed propaganda always gets their message out the loudest to shape the public opinion.
It remains incumbent on the rest of the professional chaplains and pastoral counselors to continue to challenge the goliath coalitions that would spread mistaken and untruthful statements and “studies” to maintain their political agendas throughout the professional chaplaincy landscape.
To the outsiders such as hospital and other institutional administrators that hire chaplains, studies like A White Paper might appear innocuous to them; but to the livelihood of many professional chaplains who work throughout the country they are far from harmless.
The political ramifications of A White Paper and the goliath coalitions that sponsored it has resulted in the establishment of a presumptive gatekeeping coalition as the authoritative arbitrators of what and who constitutes the professional chaplaincy. This posture remains ethically untenable, grossly arbitrary, and unfaithful to the religious tenets that encourage practitioners to behave and act with decency and justice toward others.
I, for one, do not desire to remain silent in light of the professional assault that continues against our honorable profession. I encourage you to continue being prophetic for justice and bring to light what is hidden, and not to become complicit as silent collaborators in our silently politicized profession.
The Rev. Dr. Belen Gonzalez y Perez, CPSP Diplomate