Thursday, February 22, 2007


The busy chore in the parish which includes among others the looking after the spiritual needs of the people entrusted to his care, the setting up of the organizational systems and needed structures, the building up of BECs and taking care of faith communities and other movements, teaching the children and forming the youth, giving guidance counseling to married young couples and troubled families, the keeping up of the physical plant of the community, all these programs and activities could engaged the parish priest so much that he forgets that time is not always his. Before he realizes it, illness is getting a hold of him and the advancing age is slowing him down. And there he is alone and untended.

The Church true mother that she is would not like that scenario to happen to her priests. She knows very well the all out dedication of her priests in the ministry, their heroism in giving up their own personal dreams and ambition for the sake of Kingdom. She too remembers full well she started as a small community in Jerusalem and yet with polled resources could support one another as well as the poor and the needy ( cf. Acts 4: 32): for “they held everything in common” and “distribution was made to each according to need” (Acts 4:35). It is on this account that she comes out strongly with this stipulation in law: “Provision must also be made so that they (clerics) possess that social assistance which provides for their needs suitably if they suffer from illness, incapacity, or old age” (Canon 281, §2). This law is actually a juridical formulation of the desideratum expressed by Vatican II which states: “In countries where social security has not yet been adequately organized for the benefit of clergy, Episcopal Conferences are to make provision…for the setting up of diocesan organizations…for the proper support of priests who suffer from ill health, disability or old age” (PO 21). The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines specified more this provision of the Code and in terse language stated: “When…priests retire from years of service in the Ministry, the Church should see to it that their respective Dioceses continue to support them…. “ (PCP-II, Acts, 561).

Here the dioceses in the Philippines are enjoined to dig deep into their own creative selves to devise workable system that would meet squarely the plight of her ailing clergymen. The task at hand is not at all easy, especially for poor dioceses that have to depend mostly on the love offerings and contributions of the faithful. Other dioceses have to contend with old financial systems that may have incorporated the social security of their members, but are in fact failing to meet the needs of the aging priests.

A case at bar comes to the fore. In one of the clergy meetings this issue surfaced when a member of the aging priests of the diocese presented to the body an innovative system that would somehow help the sick priests in purchasing their prescribed medicines. The idea is this: make collection boxes with a big-letter message painted on them as, “Support Our Aging Priests (SOAP)” and place them in strategic places in the parish churches. Simple or crude the idea brings home the message that the aging priests are overwhelmed with the mounting expenses that they have to defray. Seven thousand (P7,000.00) to nine thousand pesos (P9,000.00) as monthly expense for maintenance medicines is simply staggering for any priest whose monthly earning is only P9,000.00. They need support; they beg for help. Who could help them if not the generous lay faithful? After all, it is the lay faithful who through the years have been the beneficiaries of the services of these ordained ministers. In fact, this doctrine is already enshrined in the Code which states: “The Christian faithful are obliged to assist with the needs of the Church so that the Church has what is necessary for divine worship, for the works of the apostolate and of charity, and for the decent support of ministers” (C. 222, §1). And so, the idea was hatched.

But that idea did not take away the obligation of the diocese to take care of its priests in need. The presbyterium understood well the plight of their brother aging priests. And so they came out with two resolves: first, ask the aging priests to desist from the planned collection boxes; second, the diocese will resume the serious talk on the social security system of priests. These resolves are based on the conviction of the presbyterium who sincerely believed in the principle enunciated by the Second Vatican Council (PO 20): “Completely devoted as they are to the service of God in the fulfillment of the office entrusted to them, priests are entitled to receive a just remuneration. For ‘the laborer deserves his wages’ (Lk 10:7), and (1 Cor 9:10) ‘the Lord commanded that they who proclaim the Gospel should get their living by the Gospel’ (1 Cor 9:10).