There are no longer enough Roman Catholic priests to provide round-the-clock, on-call sacramental care to sick patients at a Halifax hospital.
"The Roman Catholic archdiocese, like many other churches, is challenged by the reality of having fewer and fewer clergy," said a July 25 update on the Capital district health authorityís website.
"As a result, there are not enough priests to continue 24/7 on-call sacramental care to patients."
Effective Aug. 1 at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre, there will be eight days per month when no on-call Roman Catholic priest will be available for confession and the anointing of oil between 4 p.m. and 8 a.m.
And during those on-call shifts when no priest is available, the duty chaplain at the hospital will be a Roman Catholic layperson who will be responsible for providing care to the patient and family.
On the website, the spiritual and religious care department says it recognizes and regrets that this will have a negative impact on patients and families at times of crisis and emergency.
"We are reviewing the situation, and working with the archdiocese to develop a long-term strategy for addressing this issue," said Neale Bennet, manager of Capital Healthís spiritual and religious care department.
The church simply doesnít have the number of priests it once had to handle the on-call requirements, Marilyn Sweet, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Halifax, said Thursday.
"And so when theyíve already fulfilled all of their parish obligations, itís not always possible for them to respond to hospital calls."
The profile of priests is also changing, she said, adding some are older and retired. And not many are under 35.
"Itís one thing to be on call in the middle of the night when youíre 30," Ms. Sweet said. "Itís quite another to be on call when youíre 70."
As well, the need for priests to be on call for sacramental ministry is lower than it used to be, Ms. Sweet said.
Roman Catholic laypersons and deacons also regularly do hospital chaplaincy. In that role, they are able to visit the sick and bring Holy Communion and also able to baptize. These services will continue to be available.
"And the particular role that a priest carries is the role of celebrating the sacraments, two particular sacraments (anointing with oil and confession) with the sick, and thatís the part of the chaplaincy that will not be offered a few nights a month," Ms. Sweet said.
"Thatís simply to say we donít have a priest on call to immediately come when a person might make that request."
"I think it may have a very significant impact on some persons at very particular times. Thereís still priests available. Thereís still sacramental ministry available most of the time."
Other denominations that have chaplains appointed at the QEII are: Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic and United Church.