Imposing Heterodoxy

November 2004By Alvaro Delgado

Fr. Alvaro Delgado is the Parochial Vicar of St. Bernard Catholic Church in Tracy, California. Previously, he spent 17 years as a newspaper journalist.

Three years ago, in preparation for ordination to the priesthood, I spent the better part of a year in an ecumenical program required of many seminarians throughout the country: Clinical Pastoral Education, or CPE. In most CPE programs, Catholic seminarians and those from a variety of faiths serve as apprentice chaplains in hospitals, and meet regularly to discuss their pastoral experiences in small groups.

In theory, people from diverse faiths engaging in ministry to needy individuals and then reflecting on the experience is an exciting and worthwhile ecumenical endeavor. But in practice, the principles of CPE run contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church, to which seminarians are supposed to be committing themselves. While the Church teaches absolute truths about abortion, homosexuality, and marriage, CPE seems to hold to no absolute truth at all. Instead, CPE adheres to a doctrine of subjective truth based on the personal preferences of individuals. Tolerance is the cardinal virtue in CPE circles, and relativism runs amok, bearing outrageous results.

One word summarizes CPE’s value system: feelings. What a particular person feels about a given moral issue governs its rightness or wrongness. Feelings are all-important in the CPE universe, and are the yardstick for all human behavior. Most everything in CPE is ultimately sacrificed on the high altar of feelings.

The CPE center at which I studied is based in southern California and is accredited by the U.S. bishops’ conference. Members who complete four units of CPE are eligible to apply for membership in the National Association of Catholic Chaplains, and for certification by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The National Association of Catholic Chaplains promotes CPE, certifies chaplains, and supervises CPE.

Apprentice chaplains in CPE groups are required to share in intimate detail their personal histories and describe how they felt at every key juncture in their lives. The goal is to touch the “inner child” in every CPE participant, to put him in touch with his deepest wounds, scars, emotions, sentiments, and feelings. One must be prepared to make oneself vulnerable so that healing of the inner child can begin to take place. In turn, everyone is assumed to be a “wounded healer” reaching out to other wounded souls.

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