The topic I have been called to talk on, The Economic Ethics of the Ministerial Priest, no doubt appears to situate the priest as minister, an ethical man and an economic entity. Consequently there is a clarion call for the priest to prove himself unwanting on those counts. To achieve much realism, the topic has had to be modified in a subtle way, as can be elicited from the approach.
I. PRIEST AS MINISTER:
The Priest as such is one who in spite of himself, chosen by God to minister to the people of God. And nobody takes this honor unto himself except he who is called, as Aaron was (Heb. 5:4). He is to present Christ to the people of God, nourish them spiritually and MATERIALLY and plead on their behalf before God. Vatican council II is very clear in recognizing the priest as another Christ. In Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priest. (Presbyerorum Ordinis) Vatican Council II says;
Priests by the anointing of the holy are signed with a special character and so are configured to Christ the priest in such a way that they are able to act in the person of Christ the head (Par.2). Quickly we recall that in Pastores Dabo Vobis of Pope John Paul II, the pontiff describes the priest as “a sacrament representation of Christ head and shepherd”. If we were to go further the catechism of the Catholic Church states;
“The redemptive sacrifice of Christ is unique, accomplished once for all, yet it is made present in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the church. The same is true of the one priesthood of Christ; it is made present through the ministerial priesthood without diminishing the uniqueness of Christ’s priesthood. “Only Christ is the true priest, the others being his ministers”. As alter christus he expected to be sensitive to the existential situation of the people he is ministering unto. Hence in the course of his preaching on occasions Christ was quick to feel concerned for the multitude at their physical well-being. In Lk. 9:12ff. Jesus spent some time preaching on the crowd. When evening was drawing near, the apostles (Disciples) suggested to Jesus that he should consider sending them away on time enough for them to go to the villages and buy food for themselves. Jesus then told them to give the crowd something to eat themselves. Having blessed the fish and bread, the sustain food was served. The behavior of Jesus is suggestive of the fact that a priest should be all things to all men, being in the world yet not of the world, and being circumspective in all occasions. Man is made up of body and soul and a reasonable balance is expected to struck. It is a foolish pretext to hold that in the world of reality one can exist healthily absolutely independent of the other (spiritual and material well-being). A hungry man is an angry man and an angry man is deficient in the service of God or the fellowship of Christ.
H.H. Hobbs once advised:
“Make money honestly – lots of it
Use it wisely – all of it
And dedicate it religiously – cent of it”
On serious reflection it becomes reasonable to suggest that the behavior of a priest towards things/wealth should be akin to our relationship with fire; if you are too near you will burn; if you are too far you will freeze herein comes there great ethical demand on the priest. There should be a right mental attitude, which is manifested as an established behavior. This behavior must stand out of the common approach of the mundane world which is basically oppressive, self-centered and non Chrito – centric. The relevance or irrelevance of the behavior logically moves us to the next section of this paper; Question behavior if some priests at handling temporal goods
II. QUESTIONABLE BEHAVIOUR TOWARDS ECONOMIC WELL BEING:
As ministers of God and fenders of the sheep of Christ, certain behavioral patterns towards money and other temporal goods raise serious questions bordering on insensitivity and distortion of values. we may only address a few of such discomforting behaviors.
a. RECORDING KEEPING CHURCH ASSETS:
Being the chief custodian of church’s assets, the priest and ultimately the diocesan bishop have a duty both in justice and charity to guard religiously such asset, ensuring that authentic documentation is maintained. It is observable to the glory of god that many parishes have welcome structures edifices for the greater propagation of faith. these includes nursery/primary school, Secondary schools, Clinics, Rehabilitation Centers, etc. the worry here is that the priest(s) in charge of those establishment unfortunately cannot keep a meaningful record of the composition of such structure in terms of land and building, motor vehicles, furniture and fittings, stocks available, debtors, creditors and generally current or operating ‘funds’. It is a good practice at least once a year to take stock of such items. Depending on the nature of the nature of the understanding one is safer to institute continuous stock – taking. An undisputable universal fault of most ministers is poor maintenance culture. It is pain that the concern of some people vis-á-vis usage of vehicles is “as long as it can kick and move ride on”. It is usually only when such vehicles are flatly grounded that maintenance can be discussed. Sometimes the cost implication become so much that abandonment takes places. Even the residential building of some priest look like abandoned properties and most unkempt due to lack of adequate maintenance.
b. Staff Salaries and Wages
I have no doubt in my mind that all of us are tired of hearing the expression: fair wage. It has become so common – place that its implementation appears to end with discussion. The priest ought to set a pace for others to follow. Here I find the greatest show of insensitivity among priest who some people in their pay – roll. They could be Cooks, Drivers, Teachers, Nurses, etc. If it does not happen in this part of Nigeria, i boldly report that our round in some of the parishes of some Dioceses, there are some full – time employees who are paid
N2, 500.00 per month. Even at that some
such people are paid upwards two months arrears. The propensity then takes
flight in occult compensation. Remember some of these employees are married,
with children. To make the bad situation worse these are employees are best
described as cash – cows at full employment and with no breathing space. Even
the statuary annual leave is often denied these employees. Now I ask: where is
the social justice which the church is known to be upholder of? Is there any
Granted that comparison can be odious it still stands to reason to imagine that
500.00 can be a critical minimum amount such employers spend in a day on the
average. Yet this same sum is a month’s salary of an employee married with
children. A priest is a man for others, emptying himself for others, just like
his master, Jesus Christ. Alexander pope once said to Jonathan Swift “I am rich
enough and I can afford to give away £100.00 a year. I will enjoy the pleasure
of what I give by giving it alive and seeing others enjoy it. When I die I
should be ashamed to leave enough for a monument if a wanting friend was above
ground” Alexander pope was born in the year 1688 and he died in the year 1744.
Let us equally remind ourselves that justice delayed is justice denied.
c. Collection in church and other levies:
The rate at which some of our churches are turning to money collection centers is becoming alarming and discomforting. Nobody wants to suggest here that the church can perfectly do without financial support. But the rate at which money is solicited for is far from ideal. Different enticing names are given to different collection, necessitating – it is supposed – two or more apart from the normal Sunday collection. Time is unnecessary misused wasted or at best some unfair economy is given to the Sunday homily/sermon in order to save time for the much needed several collections. Even it could happen that seventy per cent of the sermon, if not more, will be devoted to working up people of God to empty their purses during the collection. With dances staged, some – to make serious matter sound funny – may display dances which if quantified, will go nothing less than 400.00 while they put into the collection box not more than 20.00 cumulatively. What is more disturbing is the fact of taking some levies as precondition for the reception of some sacraments. The reception of the sacrament of reconciliation (and therefore the Eucharist) is dependent on the prospective recipient having paid his AMC or whatever name a particular diocese gives it. For a person to be when it comes to baptized, some fee is payable. The situation in some instance is worse when it comes to sacrament of marriage. Even for harvest and Bazaar levies, ordination/religion profession levies, the stage of reception of the sacrament becomes a favorable collection point, otherwise the sacrament s would not be administered. In all fairness the recipient of the sacraments may have a blame: unless he is held to the throat, he would not live up to his financial obligation with the church. All the same, perhaps the ministers are not doing enough catechesis or comporting themselves so becomingly that the follower naturally supports the church. The priests need the money and perhaps the Christian cannot afford the money. Here lies the serious problem.
On this my suggestion is sometimes straight jacket approach to rules and regulation may not be Christian enough. There may be need to consider certain issues and people on their own merit. There must be exceptions prudently established. After all exception makes rule. Of course too many exceptions destroy the rule.
The priest as such is a servant. He is called to service. He is serving a people for God. Necessarily he renders account first to the people he is serving and finally to God. Christ in his teaching was not oblivious of the need for accountability. Hence inter alia, the parable of the master who demanded account from his servants, people deserve the right to be well informed of the inflows and outflows as concern them, especially of funds. As service, open door policy is advocated. The priest must NOT ONLY BE BUT MUST ALSO BE SEEN TO BE DETACHED. There are several funds in the church, which attract the inquisitiveness of the member of a parish. Some of these include bazaar funds (incomes and expenditure), building fund accounts, special projects (e.g. Nursery/Primary and Secondary school account, Hospital/Maternity/Clinic records). Of course these are to the extent to which the congregation is committed. Functional finance committee should be in place in every parish as a mirror image of the Diocesan finance committee as advocated by canon 492 .1. Banking culture should be established such That all incomes get first banked while all approved expenditures are affected through drawings from the bank. To maintain his integrity it is most advisable that a priest avoids as much s possible being a sole signatory to an account owned by a parish. There is equally nothing fundamentally wrong with occasionally publishing the parish account for the Parishioners to be informed. It is advocated in no uncertain term that there is need for occasional external auditing of the common account, even if there is already in place a term of internal auditors. This suggestion does not in any way EXCLUDE the Diocesan Center. For the avoidance of doubt, we do here mean to infer that the bishop is ordinarily accountable to the priest. Let us simply safely say that on occasions, the bishop is in a better shape if he reassures his priests.
At this juncture, a question comes to mind: is it ethical – apart from dryly preaching the word – for priest to assist in generating the income with which he runs his constituency and maintains himself? To this I answer with this story;
A monk arrived at monastery ruled by an old abbot and requested to be admitted. He found all the monks busy making and mats. Surprised, he said to them; “why do you work for a meal that is perishable? What one should seek is the sustenance of the imperishable spirit!” the abbot had him put in an empty room and he was left there. Meal time came and the guest anxiously waited to be called to dinner since it was getting late and he was hungry. He finally went to the abbot and said: “Father, aren’t the brothers in this house eating today”? “Of course they are”, replied the Abbot. “Then why haven’t I been called?” The Abbot replied: “Because you are a spiritual man and o not need food; we however need earthly food because we are flesh- and- blood men and therefore work to earn our meals…..` The embarrassed Monk learned his lesson the HUNGRY way.
Times are becoming harder and harder for our society. Human need (not want) which impact on physical well – being and economic survival are rising in geometric progression while requisite incomes are dwindling also in a geometric progression. A meeting point is hard to come by. Therefore all hands must be on deck to alleviate the suffering of the masses. Something near economic independence should be aim at by the church. Understandably, the church here still remains the laity and the priests, with the priest playing the leadership role. It is now necessary for us to into the third major section of this paper.
III. SUGESTED WAYS OF HELPING OURSELVES ECONOMICALLY:
It is a truism to say that much financial burden is placed on the laity by the hash economic facts of the society. Parents and guardians have many children to cater for: feeding them, clothing them, see to their health care and giving them formal education. The financial implications are simply enormous up to this point. Add to these the care and sustenance of the clergy. Therefore it stands to reason that clergy must find ways and means of reducing the BURDEN on the laity. Because of the value content of such suggestion in a similar paper delivered to Awka Decease on November 17, 1999, this paper would incorporate some of the points addressed.
a. Investment in manpower training:
This is a long –term measure in a way. With the decease being blessed with more and more priest endowed with intrinsic but unharnessed talent, the Diocese will be doing herself a lot of good if some priests are trained in fields of study other than Theology and Philosophy. There is need for diversification. Our present age as we know is an age of professionalism and mature division of labor. The priesthood of today is lived with this age, not the age past.
Economic self – actualization by the church via her priest and laity cannot rightly be said to dampen the spirituality of the church. With prudent approach, it could quickly work as a catalyst and a beautiful way of preaching the Gospel. We must equally appreciate the need for dynamism in ways and means of preaching Jesus Christ in His constancy within a changing and scientifically prone world.
Positive dividends will be realized if our Priests train in such areas as Architecture, Banking, Computer application and Technology, Accountancy, Publishing, Insurance/Actuarial science, Civil Law, Civil engineering, Educational Administration, and General Management. The fact alone the Church has own professionals among the Priests definitely reduces cost of hiring such professionals from elsewhere. One wonders aloud what – if anything – is fundamentally wrong with the Church, through Priest professionals, owning and manning firms of professionals like Civil legal Chambers, consultancy firms and even Accountancy/Audit firms. These are clean and clear sources of income physically realizable or as cost reduction.
b. Floatation of Bank
With pooling of talented professionals in those secure fields, it might be worth considering floating a bank. It is painfully true that the banks capitalize on the ignorance of Priests and misdirect them. Some are not given accurate information concerning the various forms of banking (e.g. Fixed deposit, Current account and saving account) and the attendant benefits, risks and uncertainties. Lack of knowledge of how to agree (reconcile) one’s record of deposits and withdraws with the position report (bank statement) from banks can cause some embarrassment to a customer. If in a Diocese two or three priests are trained in Banking Industry. It does not necessarily mean that Priest(s) will be all in all in the bank. The fact that an informed Priest is there, playing a supervisory role, will act as a serious deterrent to non – priest staff who might otherwise wish to defraud the bank.
C. Consultancy Firm
It is not be disputed that a consultancy firm with a management team in the fields of Accountancy, Banking, Business, Law and Actuarial Science will place a Diocese in a position of economic progress. Many Dioceses and Parishes – not to talk of the society at large – often want to start an income – generating outfit. Wisely they would professional reasons to be convinced that such projects will be profitable or at least stand at a break – even point. Herein comes the need for feasibility report would be handled by the consultancy firm. In general, a feasibility report would address the issues of location of a business in terms of market availability (demand) sources of raw materials, availability of water, light and means of communication, access road, quality and cost of available labour availability of financial institutions and market, extent of possible competitors, etc. Other technical issues addressable in a sound feasibility study would include estimates of working Capital requirement, loan facilitates and their terms, Capital expenditure budget, expenditure projection, income projection, profitability indices, management and marketing terms and teams, and nature of possible demand (Seasonal or non – seasonal). A good feasibility report forms a solid foundation for the success of any business. This is why it becomes a reliable source to any diocese that has a firm with professionals so trained.
D. Publishing and Broadcasting
We must not close our eyes to the trend in the world, which makes the need for broadcasting and publishing very urgent. I am afraid that the Church in our part of the world is not yet doing enough to address this fact. We must use what is current, what the world understands to advertise Christ. Therefore some Priests need to be encouraged to venture into the fields of publishing and broadcasting. There is no doubt that some of our flocks get lost through the mass media where the Church has nothing to offer through the same means to correct theological errors being rolled out to the listening masses. We cannot deceive ourselves thinking that the mass media has no psychological impact on hearers.
e. Investment in Stocks and Shares
This forms a very decent way of reaping the good fruits of long term savings. Unfortunately, many people cannot fancy this source of income. From investigation, people fell highly discouraged as a result of the meager dividends receivable. Actually the increase in shareholdings and the appreciation of the market value of the share make such investment worthwhile. An oral discussion on this will clarity clouded issues.
I feel an inner urge not to end this paper without stating some issues that may make or mar the message in this paper.
1. We know of the common saying: “United we stand, but divided we fail”. Consequently the success or failure of any decided undertaking is the lot of all in the Diocese. Therefore t is suggested that we must always look out for who can do what best, irrespective of any mean consideration like place of origin or sentiments.
2. If we fail to plan, we plan to fail. Therefore a target must be set and adequate feasibility study made. If there is material disagreement, steps must be retraced. Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threat (SWOT) must be carefully determined.
3. When responsibilities are assigned, a healthy operational environment equally needs to be created. A defined authority must accompany any responsibility. This statement stands the test of time. It is equally verifiable.
4. In as much as teamwork generally results in synergy, we must be careful to ensure that people who operate on parallel frequencies are not assigned the same duty as a team. Should this mistake be made, the result will be counter – productive.
5. Experts/Specialists need to be recognized for what they are. Their opinions need to be respected. The idea of a non – expert dictating for an other hand, such experts ought to appreciate the limitations of the uninformed in their fields and take time to explain their activities.
6. It is good to know something about everything, and everything about something. That is the essence of specialization. On this, people should be allowed substantial time to consolidate in their assigned duties, making allowance for understandable mistakes. There is a paradox I want to share with you: “the only way to avoid mistakes in business is to gain experience, and yet the only way to gain experience is to make mistakes”.
8. We know of the saying no venture, no successes. Understandably man is change averse. This fact notwithstanding, there is need to take a calculated risk by immediately succeed if we try, but we can never succeed if we try, but we can never succeed if we don’t try.
Finally let us realize our unique place in the drama of life as Priests ministers to the world, living in an economic environment as instructors and participants and having a common domain as Priest, conscious of our unity in diversity.