3 in 5 priests live in a material world

MANILA, Philippines – Right inside the premier church in the Philippines, and in their immaculate white robes, the local Church hierarchy was admonished by the Pope to go back to the basics.

While the Pontiff’s wake-up call was not as strongly-worded as what he delivered  to members of the Vatican Curia on Christmas eve, he nevertheless hit the core of the problem besetting the Philippine Catholic Church—“a certain materialism” that afflicts many in the clergy.

“If you will ask me, 60% of those in the priesthood do not have the missionary spirit. What they have is a materialistic lifestyle,” said priest-formator Monsignor Manuel Gabriel. Gabriel also teaches at the Loyola School of Theology.

“I notice this in big cities like Metro Manila. What they practice is functional and ministerial priesthood,” he added.

In his first homily on Philippine soil, the Holy Father warned the Church hierarchy about falling into “a certain materialism which can creep into our lives and compromise the witness we offer.”

He urged them to forsake materialism and reclaim the essence of their ministry. “Only by becoming poor ourselves, by stripping away our complacency, will we be able to identify with the least of our brothers and sisters.”

“We will see things in a new light and thus respond with honesty and integrity to the challenge of proclaiming the radicalism of the Gospel in a society which has grown comfortable with social exclusion, polarization and scandalous inequality,” the Pontiff, a Jesuit, said in his first Eucharistic Mass at the Manila Cathedral.

Misguided values

Unlike priests who belong to religious groups like the Jesuits or the Franciscans, diocesan priests – or those who are under the direct control of a bishop or an archbishop – do not have a vow of poverty.

Still, the Canon Law enjoins diocesan priests to follow a “simple way of life and shun living “in worldliness.”  

Retired Lingayen Archbishop Oscar Cruz, in his book, "Clergy Compensation," explained that priests should only “hold what is necessary for their decent personal upkeep.” Any excess or surplus they receive should be used “for the good of the Church in general and for the works of charity in favor of the needy people.”

But today’s priesthood has a different take on what the core of their ministry is.

“There are so many of us with misguided values,” a 38-year-old Parañaque diocese-based priest said. “It is a sad reality that some of us enter the priesthood just to escape poverty.”

With a wrong motivation to enter holy life, these kinds of priests do not have “the other centeredness” required of the priestly vocation.

The flawed sense of ministry is magnified by generous patrons and parishioners who shower their priests with cash, gifts and other financial and material benefits.

“We sometimes joke that you will never get hungry when you become a priest. Everything is provided to you. You have all the perks,” the priest said.

The danger is that “you will eventually get a sense of entitlement.”

Priests with poor beginnings are especially vulnerable. “You mingle with the rich and you forget your humble beginnings. You forget you were poor before or even try to cover it up. Instead of embracing it, they felt shame for being poor.”

Changing lifestyle

Gabriel, who has been a priest for 45 years, has observed that most young priests nowadays easily fall into the trappings of a luxurious lifestyle.

“In my case, it took me 20 years to have my own car. Now you see young priests, ordained in a few months, sporting new cars.”

The young priest feels “the need to get updated and falls into the habit of a certain lifestyle.”

“Only 40 % are going to the people, fulfilling their ministry,” he said.

Part of the problem is the flawed formation of priests in seminaries.

“Many priests see their vocation as only functional and ministerial. Kasal, binyag, libing (weddings, baptisms and burials). They are in the maintenance mode of priesthood.”

Already lacking in missionary spirit, they are further exposed to the vagaries of an entitled lifestyle. “They get invitations to go abroad. They join their bishops. In my case, I was only able to go abroad on my 10th year as a priest.”

The prelate said current priest formation “lacked the missionalogical and theological component” needed to fully appreciate their vocation.

“They have to experience living with the poor. They have to have immersion.”

As it stands, it's going to take more than a gentle reminder from the Pope to rock the Church of Peter. – Rappler.com