Probably the same as when there is a Rabbi available.
The fundamental question is really whether there is anything wrong with a visit by a Catholic priest chaplain.
Chaplains in hospitals, as in the military, are generally expected to be available for all faiths, even though they are all of a specific faith. This goes for Jewish chaplains, Catholic, Protestant, etc.
If they visit members of different faiths, they are expected to encourage the patients to pray in the patient's idiom. There is no conversion agenda; there is an agenda of respect.
So, what could be wrong with a Catholic chaplain inspiring a Jewish patient to pray, or to recite the Shema? It is not wrong even if there is a Jewish chaplain on the premises, or, as you put it, a Rabbi available.
At first my inclination was to answer just as my two colleagues did. Chaplains are assigned not according to faith, but by who is there at the time, and they are not supposed to proselytize, or even engage in any religion-specific activities (a Jewish chaplain can’t perform sacraments for Catholics for example). There is no bar to receiving the chaplain who is available at the time.
But then I wondered if there was something else that might be on your mind? I thought that perhaps you were expressing a worry that the patient mightchoose the non-Jewish chaplain to pray with, rather than the rabbi?
If so, there really isn’t a Jewish legal answer to this question. It strikes me that the worry here is less about whether it’s appropriate for a Jew to ask for a priest to pray with him, and more about a concern that a person might be led to become invested in another religion. That could happen, of course. It’s not too likely in a hospital, because of the structures of chaplaincy that are put in place to prevent it, as both of my colleagues mentioned. Nevertheless, the time to address this question is not when a person is in the hospital, but beforehand-and afterwards.
If I were worried about a patient in my community whom I thought was vulnerable, I would make sure that the community – not just myself- was visiting that person and supporting them. Bikkur Cholim has a lot of power, and it shouldn’t be something done just by the rabbi. In addition, I would try to find someone that I thought would be able to relate to that patient – and that might not be me. It might not even be a rabbi.
If the nature of the illness is such that the person has suddenly started seeking answers to difficult questions, simply avoiding those of other faiths will probably not prevent them from that search. What we can do, is try to make sure that the questions and answers that Judaism offers are available to them. The second is to make sure that we’re answering their questions – and not our own.
The first determination is whether we are talking about the priest or the patient. Bikkur cholim - visiting the sick - is one of the mitzvot which has no limit. Although it may not be incumbent upon the priest to follow this mitzvah, no fault can be put upon him for fulfilling it. As to the patient, he is welcome to any visitor who makes him feel better - and the Rabbis of the Talmud agreed that visiting the sick contributes to healing. The only caution would be the nature of "praying together". It would not be acceptable for the Catholic priest, under the guidelines of the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, to either seek to convert or to ask the patient to pray a Catholic prayer. (This is from the ACPE code of ethics: "ACPE members... 101.4 approach the religious convictions of a person, group and/or CPE student with respect and sensitivity; avoid the imposition of their theology or cultural values on those served or supervised.") Jewish chaplains, working in environments with patients of different religions, act in the same capacity - providing counsel and pastoral care to their patients, regardless of their religious beliefs. As long as the patient has no objection to the priest and as long as the priest does not attempt to engage in prayer that is offensive to the patient, there is no reason to restrict the priest's visits.
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