I'm not often offended by the Catholic church. As close as I flirt with atheism, the only stand the Catholics really offend me with is their strong sentiment against a woman's right to her own body. But then, at least they are consistent; they're also against the death penalty.
That said, the Catholic's most recent debacle is the most shameless modernization since Martin Luther's day. Back then, the Church capitalized (pun intended) on the invention of the printing press by printing indulgences (basically, entry forms into heaven - you'd buy one after your most recent sin) by the thousands upon thousands. Martin Luther wasn't too keen on the idea of selling entrance into heaven, which was one of many ideas he pounded into a church door one fateful day.
The Catholic's modern update to this was reported in today's New York Times and follows:
Short on Priests, U.S. Catholics Outsource Prayers to Indian Clergy
By SARITHA RAI
Published: June 13, 2004
ANGALORE, India - With Roman Catholic clergy in short supply in the United States, Indian priests are picking up some of their work, saying Mass for special intentions, in a sacred if unusual version of outsourcing.
American, as well as Canadian and European churches, are sending Mass intentions, or requests for services like those to remember deceased relatives and thanksgiving prayers, to clergy in India.
About 2 percent of India's more than one billion people are Christians, most of them Catholics.
In Kerala, a state on the southwestern coast with one of the largest concentrations of Christians in India, churches often receive intentions from overseas. The Masses are conducted in Malayalam, the native language. The intention - often a prayer for the repose of the soul of a deceased relative, or for a sick family member, thanksgiving for a favor received, or a prayer offering for a newborn - is announced at Mass.
The requests are mostly routed to Kerala's churches through the Vatican, the bishops or through religious bodies. Rarely, prayer requests come directly to individual priests.
While most requests are made via mail or personally through traveling clergymen, a significant number arrive via e-mail, a sign that technology is expediting this practice.
In Kerala's churches, memorial and thanksgiving prayers conducted for local residents are said for a donation of 40 rupees (90 cents), whereas a prayer request from the United States typically comes with $5, the Indian priests say.
Bishop Sebastian Adayanthrath, the auxiliary bishop of the Ernakulam-Angamaly diocese in Cochin, a port town in Kerala, said his diocese received an average of 350 Mass intentions a month from overseas. Most were passed to needy priests.
In Kerala, where priests earn $45 a month, the money is a welcome supplement, Bishop Adayanthrath said.
But critics of the phenomenon said they were shocked that religious services were being sent offshore, or outsourced, a word normally used for clerical and other office jobs that migrate to countries with lower wages.
In London, Amicus, the labor union that represents 1.2 million British workers, called on the government and workers to treat outsourcing as a serious issue.
In a news release, David Fleming, national secretary for finance of Amicus said the assignment of prayers "shows that no aspect of life in the West is sacred.''
"The very fabric of the nation is changing,'' he said. "We need to have a long, hard think about what the future is going to look like."
However, congregations in Kerala say the practice of ordering prayers is several decades old. "The church is not a business enterprise, and it is sad and pathetic to connect this practice to outsourcing software work to cheaper labor destinations,'' said the Rev. Vincent Kundukulam of St. Joseph Pontifical Seminary in Aluva, near Cochin. In Bangalore's Dharmaram College, Rector James Narithookil said he often received requests for Mass intentions from abroad, which he distributed among the 50 priests in his seminary. Most of the requests from the United States were for requiems, with donations of $5 to $ 10, he said. Bishop Adayanthrath said sending Mass intentions overseas was a way for rich churches short on priests to share and support smaller churches in poorer parts of the world.
The Rev. Paul Thelakkat, a Cochin-based spokesman for the Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church, said, "The prayer is heartfelt, and every prayer is treated as the same whether it is paid for in dollars, euros or in rupees."