Joseph Peter Calleja, Manila
Updated: January 29, 2021 09:00 AM GMT
Bishops in the Philippines say paying clergymen a stipend for church services is ‘anti-poor.’ (Photo: Angie de Silva)
Catholic bishops in the Philippines have 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.
Up to now, whether to implement the "arancel" system, as it is known, has been left up to each diocese. Most dioceses in the Philippines charge fees for church services.
In the Jan. 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, they added.
The bishops believe 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,” the bishops 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.
“Many poor people like us hesitate to opt for a church wedding because we cannot afford the fees. This recent announcement means our Church has become more sensitive to the needs of the poor,” jeepney driver Paul Alcantara told UCA News.