Friday, October 19, 2012

Under Currents at the Synod on Evangelization

John L. Allen Jr. picked up a couple interesting tidbits about clergy vocations from the Synod of Evangelization going on in Rome.

1.      Draining foreign countries of priests to staff priest-empty parishes in the USA is unjust.
2.      A Byzantine Archbishop said he has too many priests and no place to send them – because they’re married. Though that is accepted by Rome for the Byzantine Church, there are stringent restrictions on ministry where celibate priests are the norm.

In Allen’s own text:

(Cardinal) Pengo (of Tanzania) noted that Africa today is dispatching priests to the West, just as Western missionaries once came to them. That's a good thing, Pengo said, but it also carries at least two risks:

§         Priests going abroad may be "seeking in the first place material gain before genuine evangelization, to the detriment of the church on either side."
§         The West may be fueling a damaging brain drain at the expense of the developing world. "The church in Africa is deprived of its best qualified evangelizers, while the materially rich Western church receives evangelizers," Pengo said.

That's a danger especially worth pondering given the realities of priest distribution worldwide. In the States and Europe, the ratio of priests to baptized Catholics is 1-to-1,300, while in Africa it's more than 1-to-5,000. Globally, two-thirds of the Catholic people are in the southern hemisphere, but two-thirds of priests are in the north.

At some stage, Pengo appeared to be suggesting, Western Catholics might have to ask if their growing reliance on imported priests is actually an injustice.
Although a synod of bishops is hardly "Evening at the Improv," the priest shortage also occasioned an unintentional moment of comic relief Thursday. It came as Byzantine Archbishop Ján Babjak of Slovakia described the unique circumstances of his church, now experiencing a boom after long decades of repression under Communism.

"We are able to thank God for the abundance of priestly vocations," Babjak said. "In the service of 250,000 faithful we have more than 450 priests and approximately 90 seminarians in the seminary."

In fact, Babjak said, they're actually turning guys away: "We cannot accept any more in the seminary because we have no more places to send them to carry out their priestly service," he said. (In part, that's because Eastern priests are often married, so there are restrictions on where they can serve outside their own tradition.