Can Anointing The Sick
Be A Boundary Violation


The ministry of anointing the sick is a sacramental ritual...for people who are in danger of dying and for people who are sick but not in danger of death.

It is one of the four sacraments of the catholic church that requires touch by anointing. 

However...anointing a person about to undergo surgery is also permitted...and parts of the body involved may be touched directly...if it is appropriate.

So...with the person's permission...the priest might touch the head of someone about to undergo brain surgery.... But he would not touch the genitals of a woman about to undergo a hysterectomy...whether or not he had permission.

In these cases the rubrics recommend that the ritual take place...

  • in the church...
  • in public...
  • in the presence of the family.

Those are the prescribed ministry boundaries for anointing the sick.

It's understood...of course...that if a person is hospitalized or in prison or a nursing home...or lying unconscious in the street...the minister does not have the person transported to the church.

However...the public nature of the ceremony can be upheld most anywhere.

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How anointing the sick became a boundary violation

Father Philip was a well-liked pastor of an ethnic parish that revered priests and looked on their every word as gospel truth.  

Until...a complaint of sexual misbehavior was sent to the bishop by several of his women parishioners.

It seems Father Philip discovered what he thought was a loophole in the rubrics for administering the sacrament to the sick -- and he exploited it.

The loophole being that the sacrament of anointing the sick could be administered to people pre-operatively -- even if they were not dying.

He took the idea of touching the body part literally and generally.

Over several years women came to Father Philip to have him pray over them before they underwent surgery.

He told them about the anointing...which they understood as religious therapeutic touch for healing.

All agreed to have Father Philip administer the sacrament...which he conducted in private with only he and the woman present.

Father Philip explained that privacy was necessary because the affected body parts were intimate.

One woman agreed to have her exposed breasts anointed...another her genitals...another her lower back.

Later as part of their complaint the women stated that they felt uneasy but no more so than they did with their physicians.

This 'ministerial' activity went on until one woman told her husband about it and informed him that several of her friends had been privately anointed by Father Philip as well.

The affected families spoke together and the complaint was made.

Father Philip was removed from his ministry and sent for evaluation and residential treatment.

Father Philip was candid in his treatement that the anointing was supposed to be therapeutic touch and he believed it was.

Though he did not think of his actions as sexual...but ministerial..he admitted frankly that the anointing procedure...as he performed it... was sexually stimulating for him.



What were the boundary violations?

Father Philip ignored the carefully defined rubrics for anointing the sick...which emphasize the public nature of ministry...just as the scriptures do

His choice of a private room...with no one else present...violates many boundaries...

  • the context and location boundary...
  • His intentions were not ministerial
  • He did private acts under the color of 'ministry' for sexual pleasure.
  • He coveted his neighbor's wife
  • The priest also fraudulently misled the women possibly giving them false hope to get them to agree to the sexual anointings.

Father Philip also misrepresented the meaning of the sacrament to the women... by leading them to believe his was healing touch knowing that the sacrament prepares a person for death...not for life.


When terms like ministry are properly defined...you can tell immediately which actions are ministry and which are not.

According to our definition of ministry...this minister's actions brought neither himself nor the women he anointed closer to God.

You can return from this anointing the sick page to the therapeutic touching page.

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