I am not against transfer of priests. I do believe that transfer has its advantages. But what is the purpose of transfer to begin with? If it is to get rid of the problems in one parish, transfer of the priest will only result in transfer of problems to another parish. That is not the right solution. If a family member is sick, and he is making others in the family sick, sending him to his neighbor’s family is not the right approach. We need to deal with the sickness.
We need to appreciate the sacrifices of priests. Consider a priest in a parish with 50 or more members. Think about the number of times a priest has to visit the houses and/or hospitals for the sick visits, births, birthdays, deaths, memorial prayers, housewarmings, counseling, scheduled prayers etc. They have to be there in any time of the day when we call them. How many of us, the laity, are willing to sacrifice our personal comfort for others? We have a choice, but the priests do not have a choice but to attend to the needs of the laity. We cannot put a price tag on their services. I know many of the readers will think about the bad apples out there, which are always a minority. When we consider the transfer, we need to consider the majority of clergy, with due respect to their sacrifices.
America is a nation of choices. When it comes to choice of priests, the people in large cities have a choice, and they probably support transfer. Remember that our people in smaller cities struggle to find a priest to conduct services once in a month, or once in three months! .If you were one among them, you will not be complaining about lack of transfer.
The main advantage of clergy transfer is that the services of efficient priests can be made available to other parishes, without limiting to one parish. But transfer is not as easy as in Kerala. Since many parishes are geographically far away, transfer within the diocese is not always practical, considering the job and family situations of priests. Transfer within the cities is a better option, but not easy. The strength of parishes, needs of the parishes, capability of the priests etc have to be considered before appointing a priest to a parish. In Kerala, the pool of priests is much larger, compared to a pool of 10 or less priests in any major city in America. I have seen many priests who are willing for transfer. But we the laity have to be prepared to pay them decent salary.
Considering the suggestion of transfer every 3 years, let me add my thoughts. Many people are fascinated by the 3-year term limit and transfer of priests in the Mar Thoma Church. It has its advantages. But ask a Mar Thoma Church member first about the financial impact. I know that some of their priests in the US are paid $ 40,000.00 per year. In addition, the parish has to pay for priest’s accommodation, health insurance, family’s insurance, transportation etc. One of the insiders in a Mar Thoma parish told me that it will cost around $ 70,000.00 per year to support a priest and his family!. In addition, when the priest returns after 3 years, they pay their priest very generously from their own pockets. Are we willing to pay that much money to a priest? The disadvantages of importing priests from Kerala-that will be a topic worth discussing separately.
There are some people who think that priests should offer their services for free, just like the parish Secretary or Treasurer. You cannot compare the services of priest with that of another laity. And, you get what you pay for! We have very capable and dedicated Deacons who are ready to become priests soon. If we do not soon come up with a strong plan and commitment to utilize their strengths and services in our parishes, our children will be the losers. Eventually, we the parents will regret.
Coming back to the transfer of priests: Is there a practical solution in the American dioceses? I believe transfer within the city should be considered considering the specific needs of the parishes, and with an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of individual priests. Where full transfer may not be practical even within a city, priests should consider serving neighboring parishes as guest priests, with mutual understanding and respect. The laity should be willing to pay more for the services of the priests, and must address the transfer with sincere appreciation of the sacrifices of the clergy.