DENOUNCING CLERICALISM. In a statement on January 1, 2015, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas criticizes priests who live luxurious lives as the Catholic Church marks the Year of the Poor. File photo by Noli Yamsuan/Archdiocese of Manila
MANILA, Philippines – Taking his cue from Pope Francis, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas warned priests against clericalism and materialism as seen among others in signature shirts, luxury vehicles, and international trips.
“It is a scandal for a priest to die a rich man,” Villegas said in a letter to the priests of the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan in Pangasinan on Thursday, January 1.
Villegas, who also heads the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), issued a 7-point warning to priests as the Catholic Church in the Philippines marks the Year of the Poor, and as the Catholic Church around the world observes the Year of Consecrated Life in 2015.
The archbishop wrote, “As a brother in the vocation whose mission is to bring the Good News to the poor, let us impose on ourselves strict discipline in the following areas of priestly life:
“Avoid as much as you can foreign travels and frequent recreation in expensive tourist destinations. Even if such are paid for by friends and family, it is best to decline and choose austerity and simplicity. Rest is important but luxurious recreation is disrespectful for the poor who cannot even take a rest from their backbreaking jobs. Be more sensitive.”
“High-end cars and expensive vehicles smack of vainglory and luxury especially in a province like ours where there are so many who are poor who cannot afford a tricycle ride. There is no excuse for any priest to have such high-end vehicles. We need vehicles to reach the poor barangays (villages) and bring them the blessings of God. Expensive cars alienate the poor from the Church. We smell differently from the sheep.”
“We need to return to the clerical attire or clerical cross in public places as a form of witnessing to the poverty of Christ. Loud colored signature shirts and pants are fashionable but we cannot let Christ glow unless we let our glamour go. To be simple is to be great in the eyes of God. The poor priest does not need to dress sloppy. We must give dignity to our vocation.”
“It is a serious sin of omission for a priest not to have a regular poor person to help whether for education, health, or livelihood. While it is morally acceptable to set aside some savings for future needs, it must be done with prudence. The money spent for the poor on earth are savings in the heavenly kingdom. It is a scandal for a priest to die a rich man. We bring to heaven only what we give away on earth.”
“We must be honest in reporting to the Curia the true financial condition of the parish or school. There are no fixed rates of offerings for the celebration of Masses, for confirmations, for funerals, for weddings and other sacramentals in our archdiocese as we agreed on. What the archdiocese forbids, the parish priest must not circumvent. We are only temporary stewards not chief executive officers. Our goal is ministry, not revenue upgrade.”
“We need to re-examine what we keep in our bedrooms.A priest’s room and a bachelor’s pad are exact opposites. Is the Lord our only companion in this sacred space of the rectory? 'The bread which you withhold belongs to the hungry: the clothing you shut away belongs to the naked.' (Saint Thomas Aquinas)”
“Always give alms to the poor who come to you. Do not be afraid to be fooled nor turn them away empty. Do not be afraid to pamper the beggars. They have no one to help them. If you have to make a mistake, make a mistake in being too charitable, in being too kind. There is no excess in kindness. We cannot outdo Christ in kindness.”
'Money got stuck in our hands'
Villegas issued this statement more than a week after Francis warned the Vatican's bureaucracy also against clericalism and materialism. The Pope issued a 15-point warning against these so-called “diseases” on December 22, 2014.
In his letter to his priests, Villegas quoted Francis who rejects “the sickness of accumulating: when the apostle seeks to fill an existential void in his heart by accumulating material goods, not out of necessity but only to feel secure.”
The Filipino archbishop urged priests to remember their “original reason for desiring to be a priest,” as well as their simple lives in the seminary, when they even “seemed to be in a perennial food lack.”
He pointed out that their ordination as priests “was our turning point,” when people entrusted their money to priests “believing that priests help so many poor people.”
“And the sickness of accumulating possessed us so quickly,” Villegas said. “Money got stuck in our hands instead of sliding to the needy. The car became a status symbol even for the newly ordained when the chrism of anointing had hardly dried. The recreation became more sophisticated to expensive tourist sites unreached by the working class. We were no longer lacking in food; we were now choosing our food after being initiated into the palate of the filthy wealthy.”
Villegas said: “It is bad for a priest to fall in love with a woman. It is worse if he falls in love with money. Ordination gave us access to church money but that money is not ours to enjoy.”
He said reforming the Catholic Church should begin with reforming its priests.
“When we look back at the history of the Church, Church reform always started with clergy reform,” Villegas said. “As the shepherds go so the sheep follow.” – Rappler.com