When I started primary school in 1956 in Carlow, Ireland, the nuns insisted that we bring in a penny that was to go to the “Black Babies”.
Now, as a reader commented the other day – some of these black babies are now coming back as black priests to address the priest shortage here in the West.
Some of these appointments are working well – while others are not.
I was a bit shocked when a reader told us the other day that their new African priest was operating a second hand car business from the church car park!
Of course we must remind ourselves that Irish priests for generations have been involved in businesses as well as being priests.
The former parish priest of Downpatrick in County Down, Monsignor Joe Maguire, was involved in running a family garage and hotel in Belfast and in County Down. He was also a tyrant PP who was very hard on his curates.
Many Irish priests have been wealthy either in their own right or because they came from wealthy families.
Priests I have known have also involved themselves in buying race horses, professional betting and in the buying and selling of antiques.
There are a number of problems that seem to be raising their heads with priests from Africa:
- Having come from a poor background they can become very materialistic and grasping in our capitalist societies.
- Because of their ordination they can see themselves as superior to lay people.
- Because of their cultures they can have a poor opinion of the place of women.
- They are often known for regarding celibacy as counter cultural for them.
On of the biggest problems that African bishops about their priests coming on a temporary appointment in the West is that they will not want to return to their own dioceses after their temporary appointment here. They have a better life in the West and therefore want to sever their ties with their poorer dioceses back home.
Of course we know that many missionary priests from the West went to places life Africa and abused their positions there – seeking and having sex with the natives.
I knew of one situation with an Irish missionary society where there were 17 priests in a particular region only 1 remained celibate and the other 16 had relationships with native women and men. This big story of all these “goings on” has yet to be told.
One of the themes that came out of the Second Vatican Council was that Catholic missionaries should be sensitive to the cultures they were entering and attempt to present Christianity in a culturally sensitive way.
I think we have now come to a time when we have to ask if it is appropriate to address the shortage of priests with priests from very different cultures?
The RC Church is doing this to stop them having to address the questions of a married clergy and a female clergy.
Short term solutions are not always good long term solutions.