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Posted May 3, 2011

Taken from the Study: International Priests in America

Recommendations: Long-Range and Short-Range

We asked everyone for recommendations. In our survey of international priests, the dominant recommendations given us was that the church should provide them acculturation training, including instruction in English. This feeling was nearly unanimous.

The recommendations we solicited in interviews and focus groups were quite diverse. We will present eight of them which we heard repeatedly and which warrant attention. Two of them should be seen as long-range goals, not anything achievable soon.

1. The priest shortage in the United States (defined in terms of lay expectations about priests) cannot be solve through bringing in international priests. The numbers are too low and the difficulties too great. International priests provide only a partial alleviation. The basic solution to the problem, in the view of some, requires widening th eligibility for priestly ordination to include women and married men. Another idea is to broaden the sacramental functions of deacons. Optional celibacy for diocesan priests is favored by the majority of American laity and priests, as shown in recent surveys. The issue of broadening eligibility, of course, lies beyond the borders of the United States and thus needs to be considered at the international level. As a result, we need to see the idea as something waiting for the longer term.

2. We saw that the international flow of priests is an instance of the brain drain in other professions and that an injustice results when a wealthy nation brings in a priest who was trained by a developing nation at that nationís expense. Bishops and provincials in developing nations are unable to train and support all the priests their seminaries could produce. We conclude that some kind of international rule could be established in worldwide Catholicism, such that wealthy Catholic nations provide funds to the poor nations to help them train and maintain ministerial leadership. If a priest is brought to Europe or the United States and incardinated, the receiving bishop should be obliged to pay the church in the developing nation for that manís education. In addition, the Catholics in the wealthy nations need to support their sister churches in the poor nations in every way possible.

The other six recommendations are different. They are feasible in the immediate future and should be seen as agendas for this year and next. All six received so much support that we can speak of a near consensus.

1. Follow the rules, as much as possible, in the American bishopsí Guidelines for Receiving Pastoral Ministers in the United States, published in 1999. We heard it commended on all sides and believe that it should be heeded.

2. Begin orienting the priests in their home country before they arrive on our shores. Instruct them about the church in America and the diocese in which they will be working. Give them realistic appraisals of the opportunities and also the problems they will face; returned missionary priests who served in America may be available to do the training. At the same time, assess the candidatesí English skills and postpone the coming of any men with weak English or extreme accents that Americans would not understand. Possibly a standardized test of English would be useful.

3. Prepare the receiving American pastor and parish for the coming of an international priest. Publicize the incoming priestís background, education, and talents, and meet with the laity to introduce him ahead of time. Send experts to consult with the pastor about common problems that international priests face. After the priestís arrival, sponsor welcoming meetings or mixers with parishioners and staff.

4. Expand and improve the orientation programs for incoming international priests. The programs should be local or regional, and a session should be held soon after the man arrives, then one, two or three sessions in the ensuing year. Make participation in an orientation program mandatory.

5. Assign a mentor or companion to each incoming international priest to help him understand the dozens of practical and cultural problems he faces. Announce the name of the mentor publically.

6. Consult with the international priests about their needs. Bishopsí committees and diocesan committees should have ongoing liaison with them. One priest recommended having a national form each year or two for international priests to hear about their experiences and recommendations.

We recognize that the American bishops today are faced with financial limitations. Diocesan staffs are being cut in many parts of the nation today, and new initiatives may not be possible just now. But the situation is urgent, and whatever can be done should be done for the good of the international priests and also the American church. The future is open.