An endangered priesthood

March 4, 2013

Tagaytay city, Philippines

By Erik de Castro

I woke at dawn to the sound of a bell ringing and Gregorian Chant music at the Saint Augustine Minor Seminary compound on Mindoro island in the central Philippines. It was still dark as dozens of seminarians in the first phase of a 12-year journey to priesthood walked towards a chapel for their morning prayers and a mass.

I walked to the same chapel 41 years ago and left after more than two years in the seminary.

As I walked with them in the chilly air, I felt the seminary’s sprawling compound was so big now compared to the time I was there. Since 1962 when the seminary opened, there have been 1200 seminarians who have passed through, according to Father Andy Lubi. So far it has produced 72 priests, some who have already left for a variety of reasons. From the 100 recruited during an annual vocation campaign, 12 is the average number of candidates that enter the seminary per year.

Renz Hernandez at the Saint Augustine Major Seminary in Tagaytay city has at least one more year to become a deacon in preparation for ordination as a priest. From a batch of 31 seminarians 12 years ago, he is the only one left. This is a common number for those entering the priesthood and some batches don’t even produce any priests.

A seminarian leaving the seminary after six years produced a video as part of his class presentation, comparing priesthood to endangered and extinct plants and animals. According to his video, among the reasons behind the priesthood decline are church scandals and priests’ abuses.

A priest told me, “Credibility is the problem nowadays, brought on by different scandals among priests and those of the holy orders. When you look at a priest, you expect to look at them as someone who would be holy, but it’s a sad fact that a lot of priests are not able to be faithful to that, and that led to a lot of abuses. The seminarians are now afraid of not being able to live up to the standards of priesthood. Could I remain faithful, chaste, and celibate? These are the things that are becoming more challenging. On one hand, these scandals could be positive in a sense that it presents a challenge to those who wish to enter the priesthood – it’s not that easy. These scandals are contradictory to what it means to become a priest.”

Another priest said, “Some priests do not have the genuine vocation for priesthood. If you really have the genuine vocation to serve God, all those temptations, you will be able to overcome. But if you don’t have it, the possibility to be involved in scandals is high.”

I talked to an ex-priest who fathered a child while he was on his eighth year of priesthood. He stayed on as a priest for 10 more years and eventually left after his second child was born. He is now taking care of his grandchildren. It’s common knowledge in the Philippines that some priests have fathered children. A priest told me the church encouraged those who fathered children not to leave the priesthood because there are not enough priests these days. The church takes care of the children financially and morally until such time as the child has accepted that his father is a priest.

As I was leaving, a seminarian walked with me towards my vehicle and told me before parting, “The Church still has to be open to communication, not hiding those who commit scandals, because even if they are priests, they have justice to answer to. The Church has to – if they know a scandal is happening, even if the public does not know it yet – do something about those issues”.

I left in awe thinking, maybe the church should find solutions soon to remedy the shortage of priests, otherwise the video of that seminarian will become a reality, priests will become extinct and endangered in a matter of time.


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