Program for priests focuses on ministerial boundaries


The diocesan Office of Safe Environment has recently implemented a new training program for priests in the Camden Diocese to help them maintain proper ministerial boundaries with adults, in accordance with living a healthy, celibate life.

The program, “Instruments of Hope and Healing, Preventing Sexual Abuse towards an Understanding of Ministerial Boundaries,” was developed by the Jesuit Conference of the United States Assistancy, to be used for all religious orders.

Calling the program “essential,” Rod Herrera, director of the Office of Safe Environment, said the program was to help clergy be “aware of boundaries, of relationships, of who they are as priests and what they represent to people; how they can effectively minister in a grace-filled way, with good, clear boundaries.”

About 125 priests attending the presbyteral convocation last month in Avalon went through the 90-minute video and discussion presentation.

The dramatized videos depict two different scenarios focusing on priests’ interactions with those they serve. The first one showed a college priest teacher, talking to another college priest teacher. The first priest tells the second that he is working with a female graduate student on her dissertation. After meeting for lunch occasionally to discuss her work, she has now invited him for dinner; the priest feels uneasy about this, and asks for advice.

In the second clip, a priest has just seen his mother die, has taken to drinking alcohol, and is attracted to the woman of a married husband-and-wife that he is counseling.

After watching these, there was time for priests to engage in small and large group sharing, and to discuss questions such as how they could identify and deal with sexual attractions, how to keep a dual relationship in their ministry as a mentor and friend, and how to maintain healthy boundaries in ministry with adults.

“Priests were engaged,” said Father Terry Odien, director of Priest Personnel for the diocese, who attended the first workshop. “It was very effective, helpful. It raises questions for them to talk about.”

Msgr. John Burton, vicar general and pastor of St. Isidore the Farmer Parish in Vineland, agreed on the effectiveness of the training, saying that it “helps us do our ministry better, provide better leadership to our people,” and the connection between “personal, pastoral, and ministerial” duties.”

Before this program, priests underwent CAP (Child Assault Prevention) Training. Now, every five years, they will be required to undergo this Hope and Healing program, each year to focus on a different topic of ministerial boundaries.

Jesuit Father Gerard McGlone, who was on the subcommittee for the project, and is Executive Director of the St. John Vianney Center in Downington, Pennsylvania, called the training “a good opportunity (for priests) to address the human side of their formation, and, in the words of Pope John Paul II, be a ‘brotherhood of brothers,’ as individuals who know these answers, but can share (their wisdom) with other priests as a community.”

For those priests who were unable to attend the convocation, Herrera said, there have been, and will be, training sessions throughout the Camden Diocese in the coming weeks in different deanery regions, so every priest can be trained in the program.

As well, deacons in the diocese can attend this program, to fulfill their requirement to be CAP-trained, and substitute this program for CAP 2, Bullying Awareness and Prevention.