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Rent a Priest picks up the slack

KOCHI (UCAN): Former Catholic priests in the southern Indian state of Kerala have launched a Rent a Priest service which aims at filling the gap for people who do not want to go to their parishes.

People who can’t stand their parish priests can hire a former priest through the service who is listed under an association called Catholic Priests, Ex-Priest and Nuns Association.

Former priests in this association provide sacramental services.

Although the sacraments are valid, they are considered illicit, as the former priests have had their authority to administer them revoked.

Reji Njallani, the national president of the association, explained that the aim is to assist people who want spiritual help, but because they have fallen away from their parishes for whatever reason, do not want to face their parish priests.

Formed in March 2015, the association aims to attract social acceptance for priests and sisters who have quit their ministry. Traditional Catholics in Kerala look at former priests and sisters as bringing a bad name on the Church, because they left.

The association now has some 200 former priests plus others who have retired from active ministry. “We are ready to add more priests if there is more demand for the service,” Njallani said.

He estimates India has some 10,000 former priests across 168 dioceses.

The only cost involved in renting a priest are travel and accommodation expenses. “If they like, they can also make a small voluntary contribution to the priest,” Njallani explained. The association plans an online platform to register for services.

Certificates for the sacraments are issued and although they are not recognised by the Church they are valid for official purposes, like registering marriages, since the association is registered under Indian law.

Father Paul Mullassery, a canon lawyer in Kollam in Kerala state, said that the former priests commit a sacrilege and are engaging in a sinful action when they administer the sacraments.

He added that those who knowingly receive sacraments from them are also sinning.

The Rent a Priest service has a history. It was first launched in the United States of America in 1992 by Louise Haggett, after she failed to get a priest to regularly see her ailing mother.

Her website says that she later learned that many priests who had left the ministry and married still wished to continue their pastoral services. Haggett claimed that Church laws do not prevent former priests from administering sacraments.

K.P. Sibhu Kattamparampil, a former priest and a founding member of the Indian association, said, “The number of people leaving the Church is rising in India, because of the wrong practices of the authorities.”

Njallani said the issues in Kerala are not about a lack of priests. “Here a large number of people are denied sacraments for reasons such as not paying parish dues or for criticising priests and bishops,” he said.

The Church in Kerala has sought to downplay the issue. An official spokesperson of the Eastern rite Syro-Malabar Church said, “There is no need for the Church to comment on every development. There are several organisations like this among Christians. We cannot comment on the activities of each and every organisation.”

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