Philippine Catholic bishops at their plenary assembly in January. (Photo by Roy Lagarde)
Catholic bishops in the Philippines are taking further steps to remove fees for sacraments and other services.
In 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," said the prelate.
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 said.
The arancel system in the Church refers to the practice of giving stipends to priests for services.
The new policy will be implemented in Balanga Diocese starting April 21, Easter Sunday.
In 2015, Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan stopped charging fixed rates for sacraments and sacramentals in the archdiocese.
The prelate said parishes would only accept whatever parishioners can offer.
The archdiocese also stopped parishes charging fix rates for issuing canonical certificates.
Bishop Santos said fees for baptisms, weddings, confirmations and Masses will be removed after the diocese finishes assessing the readiness of parishes to do so.
In other Philippine dioceses, guidelines have also been set for the gradual removal of the arancel system.
In Manila Archdiocese, several parishes have already started "to calibrate their finances" in preparation for the removal of fees.
Father Roy Bellen of the archdiocese’s communications office said the plan is to end the arancel system by 2021, the fifth centenary of the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines.
Pope Francis has repeatedly urged churches to give services for free.