Outsourcing Prayer

While the corporate world deals with the fact that hundreds of thousands of American jobs are being outsourced to companies overseas, now we find out that it is happening in churches too.

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There is a bizarre and strangely hilarious article in the New York Times about the Catholic Church’s practice of outsourcing prayer and masses. With clergy in short supply in North America, some churches are sending requests for masses to places such as India where poor, less-busy priests can earn some extra money by performing the masses. In India “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.” Some dioceses are receiving hundreds of requests every month.

Here are a few quotes:

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.

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.”

I happen to know that people in North America pay more than $10 to have a mass said for a deceased relative or friend and I’m sure they pay more than that to have prayers said as well. So I wonder what percentage the local church takes as a “finders fee.” It seems to me they are probably taking 60 or 80% of the amount and than passing on just a fraction of it to the priest who is actually doing the work.

You know, in the Catholic system it doesn’t much matter who does a mass on behalf of your relative or who says a prayer for you. If priests are telling their parishoners that they will not be performing the mass themselves, I guess there really is no problem with “outsourcing” them. However, if they are allowing people to believe that a local member of the clergy, someone the parishoner knows and respects, will be doing the mass but then quietly shipping it off to India where it will be done by someone who can’t even pronounce your name, then that is just wrong.

Regardless, it shows what a bizarre system of beliefs the Catholic Church holds to that this sort of thing goes on. You can read the whole article here but will have to register before you can see it.