They sometimes appear more priest-like than real priests, complete with holy water and an altar boy in tow, and yet the public, particularly those visiting cemeteries on All Saints’ Day, is advised to steer clear of them. Every year, as cemeteries burst to life for All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days, they have become virtual stomping grounds for unscrupulous individuals who want to earn extra money by pretending to be priests and duping unknowing families. “Marami ngayong naglipana na pekeng pari na minsan mas mukhang pari pa sa tunay na pari at kabisado ang mga dasal,” said Fr. Francis Lucas said in an interview with GMA News Online editor-in-chief and News To Go anchor Howie Severino on Tuesday. He said the modus operandi of these fake priests is to roam around cemeteries and bless tombs in exchange for a fee. “Minsan may sakristan pa, taga-kolekta, minsan mas mahal pa ang sinisingil,” said Lucas, the executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines-Episcopal Commission on Social Communication and Mass Media. Celebret Tagbilaran Bishop Leonardo Medroso said one way of determining a priest’s legitimacy is to ask for a celebret, a testimonial given to a traveling priest signifying his good standing in the Church. It has an accompanying request that he be permitted to hold Mass and other sacraments.
“Don’t be deceived by people who immediately present themselves to bless the grave pretending that they are priests… unless of course if you know them,” Medroso was quoted as saying in an article posted on CBCP news site. He said offering prayers and blessings for the dead should not be used as means to earn money. Lucas said the public could verify the identity of the priest by checking the CBCP directory. He also said priests don’t normally roam cemeteries to bless tombs. “Sa ngayon ay wala na halos tayong makikitang ganyan kasi ang ginagawa ng mga pari ang blessing dapat pami-pamilya, pre-arranged,” he said. Lucas also said a priest should not collect money for blessing tombs. “Tandaan mo ‘yung batas ng Simbahan ay hindi dapat mangolekta ang sinumang pari sa pagbabasbas. Hindi ka pwedeng magpresyo.” Bishop vs commercialism Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas had earlier reminded the clergy against "commercialism" of the sacraments.
“The trafficking for money in spiritual things is simony. It is a sin,” Villegas said in a circular issued to his priests, excerpts of which were posted on the CBCP news site. “It is prohibited to collect any donations for the individual blessing of graves. It is prohibited to conduct ‘special blessing of graves’ for friends of priests and benefactors of the Church within October 31 to November 2 period,” he said. The Catholic Church allows minimal "fees" or "offering" for Masses and other sacraments that priests perform, including weddings, christening, and prayers for the dead. These charges are meant for the maintenance of the parish, and the living allowance of parish workers. The 1983 revised code of Canon Law espouses the term “offering” – which better conveys the freewill, gratuitous nature of a gift, rather than the old term "stipend" as it meant wage paid to soldiers in the Roman times. Canon 946 states that the “faithful who will make an offering so that Mass can be celebrated for intention, contribute to the good of the Church, and that by their offering they share in the Church’s concern for the support of its ministers and its activities.” — Amita O. Legaspi/KBK, GMA News