Thursday, December 1, 2011

Empty Seedbed and Priestly Departures

All of the seminarians from the Saint Joseph College Seminary (SJCS) here in our province are calling it quits and have decided to get out this semester without hinting if they would come back or not. Though their school is not directly affected physically by the recent fire at the Chancery, they moved out en masse together with their rector, confessor and some personnel. The seminarians have expressed their sentiments through a Manifesto they have signed before they left. They have cited, among other things, guidance and care from the bishop and the urgent settlement of disputes among priests. That’s all I can impart so far for I am not in authority to explain its content. A move that I believe they will do in the succeeding days to a proper time and venue. Report on the incident appeared in the Philippine Daily Inquirer yesterday that can be accessed here.

The SJCS was established in 1984 while the SJCS School of Philosophy, second in MIMAROPA, came into existence barely three years ago. Occidental Mindoro’s first bishop, Vicente C. Manuel, SVD,DD just months after our local Church separated from the Apostolic Vicariate of Calapan, opened it and clearly manifested that priestly ministry was our late prelate’s foremost concern. Among other pastoral offices, seminary formation is on the top of his “what-to-do-first list” then of pastoral priorities.

The action made by the seminarians was criticized by some quarters headed by faculty members especially those who are identified with the other faction of diocesan priests. They accused the rector, the registrar, their confessor and some of its lay staff of tolerating if not influencing the future priests, all minors, in their move. Majority of the teachers and few parents even sided with the accusers and they are also doing some counter actions as of this writing instead of proposals how to resolve the deepening factionalism among the clergy. Only one thing is certain: whether the allegation is true or not, the Church’s seedbed has been polarized and became voiceless and so quiet. It is now empty physically, of purpose, relevance and of meaning. My heart bleeds not only for the seminarians but especially for the future of priestly vocation in our province and the fate of our homegrown clergy.

Being a father of a seminarian I can feel the suffering brought about by inaction to settle the long lingering feud of the priests that never been attempted to resolve by the higher-ups. My wife and I offered my ONLY son to the cause of the vocation but those influential men in cassocks disappointed him. He was disillusioned and demoralized by this problem of priests’ factionalism. Yobhel is expected to graduate next school year but we do not give a damn and we let him go. He is not used to this kind of quarrel for way back home we always make it to the point that we settle differences before bedtime. My son is so vulnerable to this kind of silent but hostile environment. His decision came two weeks before his brothers and classmates at SJCS walked out. We are both misty-eyed he telling me his ordeal that made him - or us – frustrated and disappointed. Though he is not a signatory to the Manifesto, without doubt he supports his brothers’ cause. I raised him not to be indifferent and arrogant. For me and my son, a consistent academic topnotch, believe that a Cross, wherever it is planted, inside the church or outside of a sacred place or even in a hellish pigsty, it will always be a symbol of redemption and a way to salvation. People of influence can anytime uproot us but not the Crosses in our hearts. Those Cross in our hearts that lightens the cross rested upon our shoulders.

Many SJCS alumnus have already left priesthood and I do not want to reveal their number much more their names and other identity, including those seminarians who, for one reason or another, went out of the seminary door. Let us leave it at that and throw them blankets of privacy. One thing cannot be denied: the Church needs priests and its seedbed is the seminary and the seminarians, the seeds (Have you ever noticed that the word “seminary” has its roots in “semen”?). What would happen if Church leaders would experience shortage of it, I mean, the priestly vocation?

Pope John XXIII, according to a book that I will cite later, when asked his intention for convening the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) said, “[I] simply moved to a window and threw it open, to let in draft of fresh air.” Sylvia H. Guerrero of UP Diliman who wrote the Preface of the book added, “As the Second Vatican Council set for the Church on the path of ecumenism and dialogue, renewal and change, in an effort to unite all Christians, it also (as someone puts it) ‘threw open for doors allowing those inside the Church to exit’”.

The book I am referring to is a good read even for us laypeople to understand the priests we know who left their priestly vocations and ministry and the psychological and sociological reasons behind this phenomena. It is written by a clergy named Emmanuel R. Fernandez entitled “Leaving the Priesthood: A Close Reading of Priestly Departures” and I can well relate to his story of a dedicated priest whom he know that left the ministry: “That dear priest’s departure from the priesthood was my first encounter with the reality of priestly departures. And it was for a young seminarian like me a very painful and bewildering experience. I saw how that well-loved priest was suddenly disowned abandoned by his so-called friends. I witnessed his radical transformation from a well-respected public figure to pathetic object of ugly gossip. The experience led me to a painful realization that began to haunt me for the next several years: if it could happen to a very holy and dedicated priest like him. It could happen to any priest.” Fernandez took this study for his doctoral dissertation in Sociology where sociological and socio-psychological theory provided the framework. Recent developments here in my diocese made me guess that already there are priests who are now entertaining the thoughts of entering the “departure area” but let us all pray that they, especially those who are competent, able, dedicated and loyal pastors, would (and could) hang on. Without forgetting that in the end and still the last say lie on the lips of the subject priest and he is the most responsible for his formation and vocation but other factors are not to be counted out like his relation to his brother priests and local ordinary.

The book talks about a thing called “Lazy Monopoly Syndrome”. In brief, Fernandez stated that, “An organization can be considered a ‘lazy monopoly’ if, among other things, it can afford to lose its clients and personnel because it knows that their ‘departure’ will not significantly hurt the organization.” From the looks of it, this concerns not only the priests but may also apply to a lowly lay employee like me!

But do not get me wrong. I am NOT, repeat, NOT, calling anybody's resignation or ouster neither I am supporting such radical move. I am only for the urgent "Win/Win" resolution of the problem for we all belong to the Church as Christ's Body. "For no one ever hated his own body; he provides and cares for it; and that is how Christ treats the Church, because it is His Body, of which we are living parts." (Eph. 5:29) The priests should resolve it first and not the parents including its faculty members.

The role of the bishop is extremely crucial especially when priesthood is at the verge of trouble. “At such times, a fatherly handling by his bishop could go a long way in terms of encouraging him to persevere. It would hardly help to handle him in strict compliance with the precepts and guidelines of Canon Law. A purely legalistic approach to a priest in crisis would only worsen matters. What is needed is to temper what the Canon Law say with the flame of fatherly love,” says Fernandez from p. 263 of his book.

Our disunited diocesan priests need to sit for a dialogue and high officials should be allowed intervene and settle this biggest and scandalous vocation crisis in recent history of the Philippine Church. Or we will be a doomed flock of Zechariah. The shepherd’s duty was to take care of his flock and cannot afford to be careless. As in the Old Testament story we have cited, they were scattered and they became food for all the wild beasts including those wolves that prey while they pray. But with a brotherly reconciliation, we could overcome this situation. If the captain could only guide all his crew in a table and locked them in inside his cabin and have a heart-to-heart talk. In that way they cast the anchor into the deep in the middle of the cruel storm. The anchor stays in the deep until the tempest is gone.

Going back to the importance of the seminary among other offices, Pope Pius XII in his encyclical “Ad Cathoici Sacerdotii” has this reminder to local ordinaries: “The seminary is and should be the apple of your eye …. It is and should be the chief object of your solicitude.”

But sometimes, we are worms in somebody’s apple and our eyes are blinded by specks …

(Photo: One of the designs of SJCS' basketball uniform)

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