Posted April 7, 2005
Experiences and Attitudes of International Priests
Research Regarding International Priests and Seminarians
By Dr. Dean Hoge and Fr. Aniedi Okure, O.P.
Life Cycle Institute at The Catholic University of America
In conjunction with the National Federation of Priests Councils and
the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops
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International priests want to be in the United States. They came voluntarily and stayed voluntarily. (A few come for a specific period of time, for example, Korean priests who are here to serve Korean parishes, and many of them reportedly want to return home again as soon as possible.) Some international priests came here because of a missionary impulse, others came for advanced education, and yet others came because of the greater freedoms and economic opportunities here. Most like being here. When we asked them about any complaints, they tended to be slow and cautious, fearing that talking too much may be dangerous. In only a few settings in which they felt safe did they voice complaints. A further reason why complaints were infrequent is that a portion of the international priests are here with an understanding that they are missionaries and will never become assimilated into the culture; they do not resent any mistreatment or prejudice from Americans.
The main complaints we heard had three themes. First, the priests said that they are not appreciated as equals by American priests. Even though they have the same training, or even better training, and even though they are bilingual or trilingual and have had years of international experience, still American priests tend to see them as less able and less credible.
Second, a portion of the men feel they did not get adequate support in their initial years in America. They said that they were assigned to work under pastors who did not want them, or who barely communicated with them. They felt lack of support in their rectories. They felt that their bishops paid little attention to them and sometimes barely even knew them. A number of those we interviewed spoke bitterly about their loneliness in the first year.
Third, some of the older men said that they had not been treated fairly in appointments and assignments. A few said that they wold never receive an opportunity to be a pastor, because Americans were always put ahead of them. Others said that they were assigned to poor or shabby parishes — in two cases parishes which the men said were beneath their dignity. We heard this enough to suspect that many international priests feel that they live under a glass ceiling. (As mentioned earlier, priests who feel they are missionaries and who do not expect to integrate into the church culture did not feel this way.)