Facilitators at a diocesan Congress Day addressing boundaries, ethics and self-care were, from left: Scott Irwin, Leah Perrault, Brian Chartier, Christie Meinema, and Francis Maza. (Kip Yaworski photo)
SASKATOON — Professional boundaries, ethical dilemmas and self-care were explored Nov. 30 during a Congress Day for parish and ministry leaders in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon.
Facilitators for the day included representatives of Emmanuel Care, the Catholic health ministry organization that runs 13 health care facilities in the province on behalf of the bishops, a counsellor with Catholic Family Services, and an associate professor of psychology at St. Thomas More College.
Director of Pastoral Services Blake Sittler introduced the day, noting that the topic of boundaries relates to the diocese’s Covenant of Care and Sexual Abuse and Misconduct Protocol.
“Good ministry is promoted and supported when we have good boundaries,” he said. Sittler noted the benefits of consulting with other professionals about issues that are of concern across many disciplines.
He also cited the CCCB document Responsibility in Ministry. “Desiring to minister as Jesus did and to exercise leadership that is about service, not power, and that calls and enables others to serve, we will strive to develop the communication and management skills that are needed in a particular milieu . . . acknowledge the limits of our qualifications, abilities and availability, and recommend that, where appropriate, people consult other professionals, particularly with respect to marriage and other counselling, legal, financial, and medical matters,” quoted Sittler.
“The issues we are looking at today are not trying to sanitize our ministry,” he said. “Rather, we want to hone our skills, ask the right questions, in order to deepen and improve our ministry.”
Diocesan administrator Rev. Kevin McGee positioned the day in spiritual terms, beginning with the Gospel account of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, which involved several boundaries, both cultural and religious.
“Jesus is speaking out of his relationship with the Father,” McGee said. The motivation for ministry and encounters with others should also be rooted in doing the will of God, he added.
“The human condition being what it is, sometimes we might find ourselves operating out of other programs, trying to have our own security needs met, having our own esteem needs made, or our power and control needs met,” he acknowledged, saying self awareness is critical when it comes to boundaries in ministry.
It is important to recognize this struggle, to intentionally address it and to bring it to prayer and the light of God’s grace, McGee said. “It is a call to pray: ‘Lord, help me to live my life in a way that operates out of a program that seeks your will and your Gospel, and not my gospel.’ ’’
Leah Perrault, Scott Irwin and Francis Maza of Emmanuel Care explored the process of ethical decision-making. They also presented a series of health care scenarios, inviting participants to wrestle with the ethical dilemmas in small groups, challenging them to discern the issues and decide on a course of action.
“Ethics is the way we approach the messiness of life,” said Perrault, offering the challenge: “How do we do that faithfully with an informed Catholic conscience?”
Maza described ethics as a discipline that “examines who we ought to be and what we ought to do in light of who we say we are,” stressing that ethics requires discernment and an effort to understand the context of each situation. The challenge in the face of sometimes complex situations is to stay true to our boundaries, he added.
Christie Meinema of Catholic Social Services provided an overview of professional boundaries to Congress Day participants. “Boundaries exist to protect both the professional and the client. We hope to do the best with whoever is in front of us, and boundaries help us to be effective in that.”
Challenges to maintaining boundaries might include the very human desire to build trust and rapport, the desire to go beyond professional limits when working with those who may have limited support, confusion about job description or roles, and living/working in a small community, said Meinema, offering examples and anecdotes to illustrate these issues.
Principles at the heart of professional boundaries apply in many other roles in life, she pointed out. These include respecting the dignity and worth of individuals, promoting a client’s self-determination, and respecting an individual’s culture.
Professionals — including those in ministry — must not exploit their position for personal or professional gain, must not engage in romantic or sexual relationships with clients, must abstain from all forms of harassment (verbal, physical or sexual), must maintain confidentiality, and must set appropriate and healthy limits, she added. Professionals are also called to address a client’s disrespectful or abusive behaviour, to limit their own self-disclosure to clients, to avoid physical contact, and to consult colleagues or other experts when necessary.
Meinema also addressed the issue of burnout and the importance of self-care, and the day concluded with the development of a self-care checklist presented by Dr. Brian Chartier, a counsellor and an associate professor of psychology at STM.