File photo showing Catholic bishops after their plenary assembly this month. (Photo courtesy of Roy Lagarde of UCA News)
By Tracy Cabrera
MANILA — The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has issued a pastoral statement renewing a call for all dioceses to abolish the ‘anti-poor’ practice of giving stipends to priests for conducting specific church rites or sacraments such as masses or weddings.
This came after a parish in Makati City drew flak for proposing to charge more than US$1,000 for weddings held in the parish church. A barrage of social media posts condemned Santuario de San Antonio Parish in Makati’s exclusive Forbes Park village for raising its wedding rates from about US$767 to US$1,250.
The parish church has slots for 936 weddings each year. Of US$1,000 for every wedding held, the parish gets US$936,000 or about 490 million pesos a year. Most churches in the Philippines charge a wedding fee of about US$100 to US$400.
In reaction Catholic bishops in the country took steps to remove fees for sacraments and other services.
On a March 12 circular, Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga ordered the removal of fees for funeral Masses and blessings in his diocese.
“Financial obligations from the perspective of the Church are not of prime importance and must not be a burden,” the prelate pointed out.
Priests were told not to charge fees for masses even in private memorial chapels.
“We should not oblige (the faithful) either for the arancel (tariff), but we can be open to their free will to give or donate to the Church,” Bishop Santos added.
In January 28 statement, the prelates said the abolition of the system was consistent with the Catholic Church’s calling in the Scriptures to love the poor.
“God calls us to serve one another more generously, especially our poor brothers and sisters, “ it stressed.
The CBCP believes that the giving of stipends to clergymen deters, hinders, and prevents the poor from receiving the sacraments.
“Let us do our best, then, to remove obstacles to genuine service, especially to the poor,” it said.
In 2015, Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, a former bishops’ conference president, scrapped the system in his diocese to encourage poor churchgoers to receive the sacraments.
Manila Archdiocese also abolished the stipend system ahead of this year’s 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines.
“This hopefully can be a gauge of the faithful of their change of paradigm to support the Church rather than thinking of buying sacraments from the Church,” said Father Roy Bellen of Manila Archdiocese.
Instead of accepting money from churchgoers, the prelates are committed to educating and forming a spirituality of stewardship among clergymen.
“We (the bishops) commit ourselves to education, formation and catechesis in the Spirituality of Stewardship for our clergy, religious and laity in our dioceses, parishes, communities and families, in view of adopting a concrete stewardship program in our dioceses to replace the arancel system as soon as possible,” they said.
The announcement on ending stipends was welcomed by churchgoers, especially among the poor.
“Maraming mahihirap ang nag-aalangan para magpakasal sa simbahan dahil hindi namin kaya ang sinisingil sa amin ng pari. Mabuti na lang nagdesisyon ang Simbahan na alisin na ito. Dito pinapakita nila na sensitibo rin sila sa kalagayan ng mahihirap,” a vendor selling his wares in Divisoria enthused. (Source Union of Catholic Asian News) AI/MTVN