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Ethics for Vocation Ministry

NRVC Mission Statement

  • The National Religious Vocation Conference (NRVC) is a professional organization of vocation ministers that presents religious life as a viable option in the Catholic Church. NRVC promotes vocation awareness, invitation, and discernment to life as a religious sister, brother, or priest. NRVC reflects all forms of religious life and provides educational opportunities, resources, and other supportive services for spiritual, professional, and personal growth.


  • Through Baptism God calls each person to a life of love and holiness through single, married, ordained or consecrated life and to service in the Church and in the world. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to be professional ministerial leaders, seeking to offer the highest quality of service possible. Vocation Ministers must function from a professional ministerial ethic, which requires them to offer the highest standards of service to all to whom they minister.
  • Vocation Ministers are entrusted with the privileged and sacred responsibility of assisting others in the discernment of their baptismal call. An effective exercise of this ministry requires a faithful witness of one’s own vocation, an understanding of the various lifestyles within the Church, and a faith rooted in Jesus Christ, who in his teaching, witness and invitation zealously called men and women to share in the Reign of God.
  • As important as they are, strong faith and good-will are not enough to conduct Vocation Ministry competently. Vocation Ministry requires education, training and a commitment to ethical and professional standards.

Purpose of Ethics for Vocation Ministry

Ethics for Vocation Ministry sets forth Principles, Responsibilities and Expectations for vocation ministry, i.e. vocation promotion, accompaniment of discerners and assessment of candidates for membership in Religious Life. This document is intended to serve as a guideline for Religious Institutes and Societies in their Vocation Ministry.

Foundational Principles

The ethics of vocation ministry are guided by these foundational principles:

  1. Gospel Values, Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, and the Great Commandment.
  2. Respect for human dignity, diversity, human rights and social justice
  3. Collegiality, Subsidiarity, Mutuality and Collaboration
  4. Personal and Professional integrity

Ethical Responsibilities

Vocation Ministry is the responsibility of the entire congregation. Leadership and Vocation Ministers have particular responsibilities in addition to the responsibilities of all the brothers / sisters as set forth below.

Responsibilities of Leadership VM

The support of Leadership in Religious Institutes is essential for effective vocation ministry especially in the following areas:

  1. The first responsibility of leadership is to lead and animate their congregation or province, in particular:
    1. To believe in a future of Religious Life and in the charism of the Religious Institute;
    2. To demonstrate their vibrant interest in Religious Life through meaningful action;
    3. To challenge the Membership to greater authenticity and integrity in their Religious Lives;
    4. To assist the Religious Institute to grow in openness to diversity and multiculturalism.
    5. To be realistic about the future of the institute and its capacity for attracting and retaining new members.
  2. Another important responsibility of leadership is to name and support skilled Vocation Ministers, in particular:
    1. To select for vocation ministry those who
      1. Are vibrant members of the Church and their Religious Community or lay vocation
      2. Have a passion for vowed Religious Life and believe in its future;
      3. Have a strong background in Catholic theology and spirituality;
      4. Are able to articulate clearly their faith, and the life and Charism of the institute
      5. Possess sufficient personal and professional maturity.
      6. Are able to assess discerners and candidates fairly and astutely;
      7. Respect diversity and relate well to diverse persons
      8. Lay vocation ministers demonstrate the above attributes with an appreciation for their distinct vocation in the church.
    2. To Support Vocation Ministers by
      1. Providing a job description listing responsibilities and channels of accountability;
      2. Providing adequate resources in ministry (time, budget, training, emotional support) as outlined below;
      3. Meeting with the Vocation Minister on a consistent and scheduled basis;
      4. Articulating clearly the expectations and behavioral objectives of the Vocation Minister;
      5. Evaluating the ministry of the Vocation Minister and the effectiveness of the Vocation Program;
      6. In the event that the Vocation Minister is a layperson, orienting him or her in Religious Life and the culture and charism of the Religious Institute and implement ways of working collaboratively.
  3. The final area of responsibility for Leadership in Religious Institutes is admitting Candidates into the formation program. They do this by:
    1. Updating and implementing admission processes and policies
    2. Ensuring confidentiality
    3. Clearly articulating criteria for admission
    4. Giving testimony about former candidates or members who are seeking admission into another religious institute, always balancing the demands of veracity and of confidentiality and the common good. (Canon 645) Issues pertaining to sexual abuse are not maintained in confidence. Advice should be sought regarding this disclosure which may have moral, ethical and legal consequences.

Responsibilities of Vocation Ministers

Vocation Ministers bear the primary responsibility for vocation ministry

  1. In Promotion, Accompaniment and Assessment
    1. To respect and reverence the inherent human dignity of each person, made in the image and likeness of God, coming from diverse backgrounds with regard to: age, marital status, sexual orientation and identity, physical abilities, education, culture and ethnicity.
      1. To safeguard the culture of the Candidate, especially when he or she is from a non-dominant culture, e.g. by age, ethnicity, language or national origin.
      2. To honestly assess and acknowledge human limitations of one’s institute in its ability to welcome and incorporate diverse candidates. Goodwill is necessary, but not sufficient in this regard
      3. To address language competence to ensure communication among the candidate, the vocation/formation personnel and the community.
    2. To clearly present the identity, life and charism of the religious institute.
    3. To clearly present admission criteria such as age, immigration status, debt, health, etc.
    4. To make responsible use of the resources of the Religious Institute
    5. To explain and maintain the proper role of the Vocation Minister to the discerner and the congregation.
    6. To maintain appropriate boundaries, avoiding dual relationships and the appearance of mixed roles with Candidates. The relationship between Vocation Minister and Candidate is professional, and not based on personal friendship. The Vocation Minister is an advocate for the Religious Institute and not for the Candidate. All communication and interaction with the Candidate should be guided by this principle.
      1. During their time of discernment and formation, all professed members of the Religious Institute, especially the Vocation Minister and the Major Superior, are in a position of trust and power vis-a-vis a discerner. The power differential is real and it is the responsibility of the Vocation Minister, Leadership and members of the Institute to maintain proper boundaries. They should consult with experts if they are unsure of how to proceed.
      2. The Vocation Minister, or any other professed Member involved in the discernment or formation process, does not serve as confessor, counselor or spiritual director for the Candidate.
      3. All professed Members, especially the Vocation Minister and the Major Superior, in their respective roles serve the needs of the Candidate. The Candidate does not serve the personal needs of the professed Member or lay Vocation Director.
      4. Unhealthy emotional relationships or sexual intimacy between a professed Member and a Candidate is not only a violation of vowed chastity, it is also a grave breach of ethical conduct. There is no place for such relationships in Religious Life or in vocation ministry.
      5. Meeting times and places should be appropriate, balancing the need for confidential communication, with the need for safe, neutral spaces, e.g. the Vocation Office, another office in the Congregational center or a ministry center.
      6. Vocation Ministers will be prudent in their use of self-disclosure for the purpose of assisting a discerner.
      7. If a Vocation Minister is already in another professional relationship with a potential discerner (student, counselee, directee, etc.), s/he will not serve as Vocation Minister for that discerner. S/He will discuss the matter with Leadership so that another Vocation Minister may be assigned to that discerner.
  2. In Assessment
    1. To ensure that the people entering the Institute’s formation program have the health, suitable character and sufficient maturity, as well as the skills and potential to live Religious Life with integrity according to the Institute’s charism and tradition. (Canon 642)
    2. To ensure the establishment and use of procedures so that the application and assessment of candidates obtains all and only the information proper to each level of the person’s discernment acknowledging the growth of trust and clarity over time.
    3. To ensure that the candidate understands the progressive nature of the discernment, assessment, admission and formation processes.
    4. To maintain confidentiality.
    5. To promptly and clearly communicate to the applicant any decision regarding their application.
    6. To respect and support any candidate with reasonable prospects for a future in the institute, including accommodating language, culture and disabilities and recommending therapy when indicated.
  3. In initial and ongoing personal and professional development Vocation Ministers have the responsibility:
    1. To live a balanced vibrant religious life: prayer, work, leisure, personal relationships, community, etc.;
    2. To demonstrate clear lines of accountability to Religious Leadership for his or her time, activities and resources and for decisions regarding candidates.
    3. To develop professional competence in vocation ministry
      1. Education, skills, formation
      2. Interviewing and assessment skills, cultural diversity, ecclesiology, sexuality, theology, ethics, and canon law.
      3. Making use of NRVC curriculum and resources
      4. Ongoing development.
    4. To make use of supervision and mentoring and a system or network of spiritual, emotional and professional support in ministry.
    5. To maintain respectful relationships with other vocation ministers by:
      1. Maintaining and promoting high professional and ethical standards among vocation directions.
      2. Respecting the diversity of charisms and the freedom of discerners in pursuing their vocation. (Canon 219)
      3. Respectfully confronting one another regarding unethical conduct.
      4. Reporting criminal incidents of sexual abuse of minors as required by law.
      5. Exercising discretion in communicating about particular discerners, balancing the discerner’s right to privacy and confidentiality, their freedom to pursue their vocation and the good of the Church, the people of God and individual Religious Institutes and Societies. (Canons 219, 220)
      6. Obtaining the testimony of the local ordinary, the major superior of the institute or society, or the rector of the seminary regarding the admission of clerics or those who had been admitted in another institute of consecrated life, in a society of apostolic life, or in a seminary. (Canon 645)
    6. To maintain professional standards in vocation ministry by:
      1. Maintaining professional boundaries at all times
      2. Maintaining confidentiality with regard to personal information of candidates
      3. Establishing and adhering to vocational records management policy
  4. In relationship with one’s own Religious Institute or Society
    In building and maintaining strong relationships with their leadership and the sisters/brothers of the congregation, Vocation Ministers build a supportive vocation culture by:
    1. Maintaining regular, open, honest and respectful relations and communication with one’s leadership about
      1. admission processes, policies and criteria
      2. the work of vocation ministry
      3. prospective candidates
      4. vocation trends
    2. Relating to one’s brothers/sisters by:
      1. Informing them of contemporary vocation trends,
      2. Focusing the vocation promotion energy of the community and provide resources and opportunities for community engagement
  5. In Vocation Ministry with Minors
    1. Anyone who is promoting vocations by ministering to minors and vulnerable adults must have current Safe Environment training. This includes vocation promotion programs where youth are present in parish and school visitations, fairs, retreats, and conferences. Vocation ministers who are working with minors discerning religious life must have written parental consent for ongoing contact. This includes on-going contact via phone conversations, emails, social media platforms, text messages, and letters. In every venue, all safe environment boundaries and policies must be followed for discernment appointments and visits with minors.

Responsibilities of Brothers/Sisters of the Congregation for VM

Sisters and Brothers of the Congregation live their responsibility for vocation ministry by:

  1. Living Religious Life vibrantly and to witness honesty, joy, authenticity, and fidelity in Religious Life;
  2. Promoting vocations and recommend names of potential candidates.
  3. Welcoming discerners for religious life and be willing to share prayer and the common life with them. To be willing to share resources of time and wisdom with candidates.
  4. Being open to assuming a role in the congregation’s vocational ministry;
  5. Respecting the vocation discernment and assessment process and the boundaries and confidentiality required
  6. Respecting those serving in leadership and in vocation ministry, to support them and cooperate with them in vocation ministry, and to show an interest in contemporary vocation trends, etc.

Expectations of Candidates and Discerners

Candidates do not have reciprocal obligations particular to a professional and ethical code of conduct in Vocation Ministry. There are, however, some expectations of the Candidate that the Vocation Minister may assume regarding the Candidate’s own participation in the discernment process, namely:

  1. To live Christian Life vibrantly
  2. To engage in discernment with honesty and integrity
  3. To follow-up with suggestions or requirements of the Vocation Minister and to inform the Vocation Minister when he/she no longer wishes to continue the process
  4. To take responsibility for his/her own discernment and make use of assistance and resources.
  5. To meet the requirements of the application process

Vocational Records Management Policy

Leadership and Vocation Ministers share the responsibility for the appropriate management of records associated with vocation ministry. They should develop and use a Vocational Records Management Policy which will address:

  1. Valuing and respecting the dignity and privacy of individual discerners, needs of the Religious Institute and the people of God, balancing the need for confidentiality and the need for information in discerning the admission of a candidate.
  2. Record creation, use, access and retention.
  3. Specific information that is needed and pertinent for vocational discernment and the admissions decision.
  4. Release forms from the Candidate for applications records:
    1. Limiting their validity to required period of time.
    2. Limiting the release of mental health records and other particularly sensitive information to 1) the vocation minister responsible for screening and 2) the major superior. This information should not be released to the entire vocation or formation team or to the entire leadership team.
  5. Information about the Candidate that may be shared with vocation and leadership teams. The Major Superior is the one who determines what information is relevant.
  6. Informing candidates regarding the vocational record keeping policies of the Institute and the scope of confidentiality surrounding their personal information.
  7. Ownership of Records. The candidate’s file belongs to the institute with the exception of Candidate records (health and mental health records and documents produced by the Candidate, e.g. autobiography).
  8. These Candidate records are returned to the candidate or destroyed on their departure or ceasing the application or formation process.
  9. Obtaining clear prior written release from discerners regarding photographs and other digital recordings to be used in communications of the Religious Institute.
  10. All policies should be developed in accordance with Canon Law and state laws.

Combined Roles of Vocation Minister and Formation Director

  1. Normally Vocation Ministers do not simultaneously serve as Formation Directors. In cases where it occurs, the following concerns arise:
    1. The person who assesses whether or not the Candidate has the ability and skills to enter a formation program now has the responsibility to teach them how life and ministry is lived with the Religious Institute.
    2. What a Vocation Minister needs to know about a Candidate for proper assessment is different from what a Formation Director needs to know about a Candidate in advance of his or her entrance into a formation program.
    3. The role of Vocation Minister is promotion, accompaniment and assessment of fitness for formation. The role of Formation Director is continued discernment, formation and assessment of fitness for novitiate or for vows.
  2. Where the roles of Vocation and Formation Ministers are combined, some safeguards are suggested:
    1. Another person, e.g. Leadership or an external vocational consultant should assist with the major interview, or behavioral assessment.
    2. The Vocation/Formation Director never serves as spiritual director, counselor or confessor for the discerner or candidate.
    3. A periodic review of an ethical practices should be instituted. It is recommended that a committee be established for this purpose.
    4. A clear channel of appeal should be available to a discerner or candidate should a conflict arise.
    5. Clear written goals and a plan of the vocation and formation program should be developed and discussed with leadership, vocation / formation personnel and the candidate.


  • Vocation Ministry continues to evolve in a rapidly changing world and Church. At the same time, the commitment to professional and ethical standards in Vocation Ministry must remain constant on the part of all concerned parties: Religious Leadership, Vocation Ministers, Members of the Religious Institute and the prospective Candidate. This shared responsibility for new Membership is an essential value for contemporary Vocation Ministry.
  • The National Religious Vocation Conference presents this document as a guide to Religious Institutes and Societies in meeting these responsibilities, recognizing that no document will include all the varied aspects of Vocation Ministry or be universally applicable across all congregations, cultures and situations.

To assist Religious Institutes in the processing of this document, the National Religious Vocation Conference proposes the following questions for group or personal reflection:

  1. How does your Religious Institute define the terms and understand the roles of Religious Leadership, Vocation Minister, Membership, Discerner and Candidate?
  2. How has your Religious Institute experienced “diversity”, “confidentiality” and “dual relationships” in Vocation Ministry? What policies and procedures are in effect in your Religious Institute in this regard?
  3. How might this Ethics document be helpful in the exercise of Vocation Ministry in your Religious Institute?
  4. How may these guidelines be adapted to your own particular situation?
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