Catholic Church is the largest disciplined faith based organization in the world with its seemingly clear ideology and implementation strategy. It has always stood against corruption, injustice and never turned face against death if that could restore justice. On the other side it has also a long history of excommunication of those who spoke in favour of justice within its own system. The life of the Catholic Church is in the hands of the Diocesan priests. They are the field executives who enthusiastically carry out the mission of the Lord. If we meditate on the Acts of the Apostles we will be able to say that they are the real replacement of the apostles who opted to preach leaving all administration to others. It is under their guidance lay people are trained to be devoted Christians, priests, nuns and brothers.
They could be compared to running horses with two pieces of leather patches on both sides of the eyes, one side the command from the Lord and other side the command of the Church and needs of the people the bridle. It is purely an individual race, no group to stand with them to face any heat. The Code of Canon Law, (Can.278 §1 & 2), too emphasizes the need of diocesan priests to form an Association yet no consolidated effort has been done. Probably this may be the only section of the Catholic Church which never had unified approach to ask for their rights enshrined in the Cannon Law. There are canonical bodies such as Council of priests, diocesan pastoral council, college of consulters etc. to raise their dissatisfactions or grievances but they are only vested with recommendatory powers.
Probably this may have been the status of religious men and women so they have formed World Conference of Religious and its counter part the CRI, (Conference of Religious Men, Women and Brothers). The Apostolic Union of Clergy may have been of such efforts as early as 1860 for the Diocesan Priests. Even though many of us may not have heard of its contribution in the well being of the priests, this organization claims to be having its branches in 70 countries and 110 dioceses in India . Reflecting the role of diocesan priests in the Church and the society as “the forefront fire-fighters” who bear the heat of the day an organization named “Conference of Diocesan Priests of India” was founded in 2008 at the 20th Plenary Assembly of Catholic Conference of Bishops of India held in Jamshedpur .
From the time of its founding the organization has held series of meetings to organize the Diocesan Priests. The consultations held in Pune, Bhopal and Jabalpur seem to be an attempt to address the issues faced by the diocesan Priests. Its reports says, we try ‘to create a nation-wide consensus on important issues affecting the priests, their spiritual life, their life-style, their code of conduct, their relationship with bishop, priests, religious and lay people, their day- to- day life and its exigencies, ongoing formation, talent enhancement and a Country-wide assessment on Priests’ Congrua and remuneration, common policy on transfers, Clergy Personnel Board to address the personal problems with the authority etc.’
It may not be applicable to all but the demands raised in these meetings have a national character. It is true of some dioceses that sufficient remuneration, travel allowance etc. are not provided to diocesan priests and nuns working in the dioceses and in some dioceses it is much below the minimum wage fixed by the Government for the sustenance of an individual. In the case of nuns Church authorities say that they have an agreement with the major superiors, probably they forget that these so called agreements have no impact on price rise and inflation. If it is a problem from the lack of funds, why not Church open its option for priests and nuns to go for part-time jobs to maintain themselves? The meeting asked for transfer policy in the nationwide to save the priests from errant transfers which are very common among the diocesans. The third reasonable issue raised in the meeting was to establish “Clergy Personnel Board” to address the personal problems with the authority.
All these suggestions points to a root problem, people friendly Canon Law, yes, it calls for an amended Canon Law with sufficient space for clergy and laity in the administration of the Church to deal with these problems. We need to wait and see whether these voices would lead to better tomorrow or death bell of an enthusiastic organization?