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Sunday, March 05, 2006
Filipino priest have become undocumented immigrants as they join the many who seek greener pastures in the U.S.

Father Edwin Corros had heard of fellow priests going to the United States for a short "visit" only to stay longer than expected. He dismissed the reports as more the exception than the rule. Otherwise, the Church hierarchy would have already sounded an alarm.

He got a rude awakening when it was his turn to visit the U.S. While being interviewed at the U.S. embassy in Manila for his visa application, he was embarrassed when told that many Filipino priests like him were already overstaying.

"I didn't get my visa, but I was told I could apply again", Fr.Corros says.

That was two years ago, and Fr. Corros was still visibly stung by the experience.

"I was discriminated because I am a priest", he says.

Resigned Novaliches Bishop Teodoro Bacani only recently exposed the trend which he said was aggravating the present shortage of priests in the Philippines.

In a radio interview, Bacani cited a dioceses in California having 40 Filipino priests and that possibly dozens more are in other areas in the U.S.

It is not only a looming shortage that is troublesome. The overstaying priests are committing "Spiritual Dishonesty" for performing prienstly duties without authority, says Manila priest Fr. Anton Pascual.


More than anything else, Bacani said the exodus is prompted by economic reasons with Filipino priests lured by the prospect of better pay in American Catholic Churches.

Are Filipino priests overworked but underpaid in the Philippines?

Lingayen Archbishop Oscar Curz explains that the basic needs of local priests, like food, clothing and lodging are provided for by the parish.

On top of this, priests, particularly the diocesans who are directly under the bishops, receive allowance for the sacraments they perform.

Depending on the place they are assigned Cruz says that the priests stipends vary, wtih those in richer parishes getting bigger pay while those in poorer parishes getting little or in some cases, none at all. In places considered missionary in nature, priests receive income in kind.

Tis explains why some priests are angling to be assigned in urban areas, which are mostly richer parishes.

Cruz says it is not only for economic reasons that priests go abroad. Some are forced to immigrate due to local situations, such as teh case of Fr. Cirilo Nacorda, who is now based in New Jersey. Nacorda, who was assigned in Mindanao, had been kidnapped twice by the Abu Sayyaf.

But there are priests who have been stripped of their "Faculties"or the authority to perform Church sacraments, because of conflicts with their bishops, a monsignor who did not want to be named says. These priests have no assigned parish and therefore can expect no monetary support.

Others leave because they are trying to avoid some indiscretions. Cruz suspects that most of the overstaying preists in the U.S. fall in this category. Cruz says he has terminated the service of some 14 priests for various reasons since he was assigned in the archdiocese of Lingayen in the 90's.

Corros, who is also the executive secreatry of the Catholic Bishop's Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Episcopal Commission for Migrants and Itenerant people (ECMI), says that normally, priests are assigned to other countries when there is a request from foreign parishes for the services of a Filipno clergyman.

Such requests come from places with large concentration of overseas Filipino workers, or a significant presence of a Filipino community such as in Rome, Brussels,London, Zurich, etc.

The requests for chaplaincy is conrused through ECMI which, in turn, informs the bishops of such vacancies. If there is an interested local priest, the bishop makes the proper enforcement.

But in the case of the U.S., Corros says chaplaincies are not a normal avenue for the reassignment of local priests who want to work abroad.

In fact, Corros says the American Bishops Conference forwn upn the practice. Under Church Law, a visiting priest must secure permission fron the parish priest or the bishop before he can perform the sacraments in a given area. This means that overstaying Filipino priests are not sanctioned by the American Bishops and are therefore performing illegal, if not illicit, acts.

The growing number of Filipino priests in the U.S. has already caught the attention of American bishops who informed ECMI that some Filipino priests are not actually working with Filipinos.

Fr. Corros explains that a priest who has full faculties would have a reference number, which serves as an indentification proving that he is allowed by his bishop to perform sacraments, like the Holy Mass, Baptism, Confirmation and others.

"The reference numbers serves as his license." Corros said.

The reference number has an expiry date, whcih ensures that the visiting priest, rpovided that he does not overstay, can validly perform the sacraments. Thus, a priest with an expired reference number is performing "Bogus" sacraments. Corros says.

Cruz believes that some foreign bishops knew and tolerated the presence of overstaying Filipino priests. He says the shortage of priests in the U.S. is so extreme that some parishes have no priests at all. "Beggars cannot be choosers".

While the exodus is depleting the number of local priests, Cruz maintains that the shortage "is not as felt as it is abroad".

He says that although the ratio of priests to the Catholic population is not ideal, the Philippine Catholic is coping well. The current ratio is one priest for every 15,000 to 20,000 parishioners. The ideal ratio, according to the CBCP is one for every 2,000 parishioners.

In his diocese, Cruz says an average of four priests are being ordained yearly, which cancels out those who go AWOL.

As far as he is concerned, those who want to leave can do so of their own free will. "If they don't want to stay here, then leave. They will only give headaches," he says.

(Source: FILIPINASMAG by: Aries Rufo, a free lance writer in Manila)
posted by infraternam meam @ 1:38 AM  
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