MANILA --- Filipino professsionals such as doctors, nurses and engineers are not the only ones leaving for abroad to seek better opportunities. Nowadays, the “brain drain” exodus includes Filipino Catholic priests. Teodoro Bacani, Bishop Emeritus of Novaliches, expressed alarm last week over the phenomenon of Filipino priests going abroad and working overseas, many of them in the United States.
The Manila Standard Today quoted the bishop as saying that priests are leaving the country at an alarming rate, which he said and aggravating the current shortage in Philippine Catholic churches. Bishop Bacani said one diocese alone in California has more than 40 Filipino priests serving as parish priests and doing other ecclesiastical work. The retired bishop said that the 40 Filipino priests in that California diocese are enough to serve one Philippine diocese. He said that there must be hundreds of Filipino priests now working in the whole United States.
In a radio interview, Bishop Bacani said that the recruitment by American dioceses of Filipinos is not limited to priests. He revealed that US Catholic churches are also recruiting seminarians who are offered scholarships to study in American seminaries with the commitment to serve in the diocese which shouldered his studies after he finished his theology course. Bishop Bacani said Filipino priests finds it difficult to refuse offers from US-based Catholic dioceses. The “recruiters” offer to work on the immigration papers as well as free airfare.
American Catholic churches, which are the richest in the world, also provide for all the needs of their priests including comfortable accommodation, generous allowances, a car and other needs. Bacani said particularly vulnerable are priests who are assigned to poor parishes and who must get other jobs for their needs.
He cited the example of one assigned in Laguna who had to work as a jeepney driver on the side to augment whatever contributions he gets from his parishioners. Bacani said this story is repeated in poor communities all over the Philippines. Seminarians are even more vulnerable, the bishop said. “Just the prospect of a scholarship would make many of them jump at the offer. They do not have to go around, as many of them do, to ask for contributions to finance their studies,” he said.
Many of the Filipino priests are serving in communities where there are large numbers of Filipino parishioners, Bacani said In fact, in many American Catholic churches, it is the Filipino churchgoers who are keeping them open.
Imus, Cavite Bishop Luis Antonio Tagle, chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Episcopal Commission on the Doctrine of Faith, during the National Congress of the Clergy at the World Trade Center said the exodus of priests is ironic because before, it was Europe and America who were sending missionaries to the Philippines. “But now we are the ones sending priests to them,” he said.
He said many churches in the US would have closed down but for the Filipinos who are keeping many of them open. He said these churches remain open not only because of the growing Filipino attendance but also because of the recruitment of Filipino priests.
The sheer number of Filipino-Americans has forced parishes to recognize their presence. For example, in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, Filipinos comprise approximately 18 percent of the church-going population. Many dioceses in the US have offices that focus on Filipino ministries.
A survey conducted in 1995 showed that there were approximately 300 Filipino priests, brothers, and deacons, and 200 sisters in the US. Many of these priests were appointed parish priests and many religious were appointed Catholic school principals and many Filipinos hold responsible positions in diocesan chanceries.
The exodus of Filipino priests, however, would exacerbate the shortage of priests in the Philippines. The CBCP estimates a shortfall of 25,000 priests. The current ratio is one priest per 15,000 parishioners. This is far from ideal since the ideal ratio is one priest for every 2,000 commissioners.