All ministerial relationships within a
church-related setting require that the highest ethical standards of
conduct be maintained at all times and in all relevant areas. These
include personal and professional interactions, program leadership,
protection of privacy, and response to misconduct.
Personal and Professional Interactions
Role Integrity. Church
ministers must be faithful to the Church and to their individual
ministerial roles. These roles possess inherent power with
corresponding obligations, responsibilities and limitations.
Church ministers must recognize that
there is power inherent in their roles that may afford influence
over another. They must be sensitive to that relative power
and never use it inappropriately. Church ministers must
protect the interests of those with lesser power, especially minors
or those mentally, physically or emotionally incapacitated.
Sexualized interactions with persons
whom we serve are never part of the ministerial role. Clergy
who are in a marital commitment are called to witness their fidelity
to their spouses. Clergy and Religious who have made their
commitment to celibacy are called to witness their charism in all
relationships. Clergy who are single are called to witness their
self-chastity and respect for those whom they date and have
established a relationship with.
Church ministers must protect the
confidentiality and privacy rights of others. Church ministers must
be sensitive to the potential problems inherent in dual
Conduct in Pastoral Counseling.
Pastoral counseling is a specific type of interaction with its own
corresponding guidelines. Pastoral counseling includes both
professional pastoral counseling and short-term pastoral counseling
engaged in by qualified clergy and other qualified individuals for
whom this is part of their ministry.
It must always be clear to both the
Church minister and the counselee that a counseling relationship is
in process. Counseling relationships are characterized by meetings
at appropriate times and places, supported by a calendar record of
contacts. Counseling should not occur at times or places that would
be ambiguous or misleading to the counselee.
Church ministers should avoid
beginning a pastoral counseling relationship with someone with whom
they have a preexisting business, professional, or social
relationship. Also, Church ministers must respect existing
counseling relationships with another professional, and must not
start another counseling relationship that would lead to confusion
Church ministers must be cognizant at
all times of the significance of boundaries in counseling
relationships. Church ministers should avoid unnecessary social
contact with counselees during the course of counseling. Physical
contact with counselees can be misconstrued and should be avoided.
Church ministers must never engage in sexual conduct with those whom
Church ministers must not disclose
information learned from counseling sessions. In beginning what is
clearly a counseling relationship, the Church minister must inform
the counselee of confidentiality and the limits of confidentiality
should a counselee disclose intent to put self and/or others in
imminent danger. In such cases, the Church minister must contact the
necessary authorities, with or without consultation and assistance
from other professionals, with or without the permission of the
When a Church minister’s independent
judgment is compromised (e.g., by prior or concurrent personal or
professional relationships, when he or she becomes personally
involved, or when he or she becomes an advocate for one person
against another), the Church minister must advise the party/parties
that he or she can no longer provide counseling and make a referral
to other counselors.
Any form of pastoral counseling
requires knowing the limits of one’s competence, and making
appropriate referrals as needed. Church ministers, who leave their
current positions while conducting counseling with parishioners, are
expected to offer appropriate referrals for continued care.
Conduct with Minors. All
interactions with minors deserve special attention. Minors should
always be viewed, whether in a social or ministerial situation, as
“restricted individuals;” that is, they do not have the capacity to
make free and voluntary decisions. Wherever they are and whatever
they do should be with the explicit knowledge of their parents or
In general, two adults should be
present in situations involving minors, with the exception of
sacramental confession. Church ministers should observe the
a. When meeting with a minor, the
office door should have a window or be left open. Do not meet with a
minor if there are no other adults in the general vicinity.
b. Never visit a minor’s home without
at least one other adult present.
c. Avoid driving alone with a minor on
a regular basis, or for great distances.
d. All outings with minors, such as
retreats, youth trips, sports-related activities, and overnight
trips, require at least two adults.
e. Sleeping quarters may not be shared
with minors for any reason.
f. Locker rooms or other dressing
areas must not be shared with minors unless another adult is
g. Avoid accompanying children into
restrooms without another adult present, unless it is unavoidable.
h. A minor should be allowed only in
the public section of a rectory and only when another adult is
Physical force or demeaning language
should not be employed in disciplining minors. Physical force should
only be used to protect oneself,
another innocent party, or a child who is out of control.
Caution must be exercised in using physical displays of affection,
such as hugging, with minors. This gesture has different meanings
for different people. Consider the age of the child, the situation,
the setting, and your relationship with the child in all cases, as
well as whose needs are being
Adult chaperones of youth group
activities should maintain a professional presence at all times.
Activities, topics or vocabulary that cannot comfortably or
appropriately be used in the presence of parents or another adult
should not be employed with minors.
Adults are prohibited from supplying
or serving alcohol or any controlled substance to minors.
Furthermore, alcohol should never beconsumed in the presence of one
or more minors by an adult who is functioning in an official
capacity with minors.
Just Treatment. Church
ministers must exercise just treatment of all persons whom they
Church ministers shall seek to relate
to all people with respect, sensitivity and reverence. Meetings are
to be conducted with patience and courtesy toward the views of
others and in an environment where it is safe for others to offer
Church ministers shall seek to empower
others, supporting each person to live the life to which God calls
them. They are to respect the different talents people bring to the
Church. Personnel and other administrative decisions made by Church
ministers should not only meet civil and canon law obligations, but
must reflect Catholic social teachings.
Protection of Privacy
Confidentiality. Persons who
come to a Church minister, for assistance or advice, are entering a
relationship marked by respect, trust, and
Information disclosed to a Church
minister during the course of counseling, advising, spiritual
direction, or any other professional contact shall be held in
The Church minister is required to
safeguard the confidentiality of any notes, files, or computer
records pertaining to professional contacts.
If consultation with another
professional becomes necessary, care should be taken to protect the
identity of individuals and limit the content of the information to
be shared. The minister must consider what information needs to be
share, with whom, and the rationale for disclosure. The other
professional must be bound by the same principles of
Response to Misconduct
Misconduct of an Illegal Nature.
Church ministers are required to report, to both the proper civil
and Church authorities, any behavior by another Church minister
where there is a credible suspicion of illegal conduct.
Ethical Misconduct. Church
ministers must notify their supervisors or, if needed, other Church
authorities of ethical misconduct by another Church minister.
Sexual Misconduct. Church
ministers must be knowledgeable of the laws of their State regarding
sexual assault, sexual abuse, and sexual exploitation, and the
reporting requirements of the Church and of civil law which apply to