AS more than 500 priests and religious renewed their priestly vows with Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal at the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral yesterday in time for Church’s celebration of the Year of the Priest, in Ireland the Catholic Church is under attack for alleged cover-ups of sex scandals among the clergy.

Brian Dillon, 19, an Irish youth quoted by Reuter said: "No one listens to church authorities among our generation. After all that has gone on with all the abuse and the pedophile priests, why would we?"

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While Cardinal Vidal said that about 500 seminarians in the Philippines are awaiting ordination, the situation is not the same in other parts of the world, especially in Europe and the United States.

In one mass I attended, the priest, a New Zealander, said that there was a time when the Catholic Church in New Zealand sent out missionaries to Asia. But now, with the shortage of young men and women responding to the call of religious vow, he admitted that Asian priests from India, Indonesia and the Philippines have filled the vacuum in tending to God’s flock in the said country.

More than five years ago, I attended the ordination of one Cebuano into the priesthood in Portland, Washington. There, I learned about the dwindling number of faithful attending the masses.

In the Bronx in New York, Fr. Blas Montenegro, a Recollect priest who once served as president of the University of San Jose-Recoletos, told my wife Debbie, a former working student, that he had to knock on doors in the neighborhood where his parish was located so people would visit the church.

The materialism that defines the lifestyle of many people in these modern times has caused the lessening of worship, if not belief in God. Secularism that highlights the separation of state and church has resulted in religious intolerance.

Of course, reports on sex scandals and misconduct among the religious have contributed to the further erosion of faith among believers. It was therefore an act of courage that Pope Benedict XVI addressed Ireland this week through a letter apologizing for the child abuses committed by priests for decades.

Addressing Irish bishops visiting the Vatican, the Pope said, "In the exercise of your pastoral ministry, you have had to respond in recent years to many heart-rending cases of sexual abuse of minors. The wounds caused by such acts run deep, and it is an urgent task to rebuild confidence and trust where these have been damaged."

He added, "It is important to establish the truth of what happened in the past, to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent it from occurring again. Above all, (it is important) to bring healing to the victims and to all those affected by these egregious crimes.”

Priests carry a task that goes beyond temporal, placing them in a position of authority and trust. While the abuses of priests in Europe and the United States have been widely published, the lack of reported abuses in other parts of the world including the Philippines does not mean no abuse is happening there.

It takes bishops the same courage as that of Pope Benedict to flush out the undesirables who are traitors to the faith, those who besmirch the name of the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit.

Cardinal Vidal reiterated to the priests that, “(Jesus Christ’s) service is not like a corporation’s obsequious and profitable ‘How we may serve you?’ but rather it is a self-forgetfulness that shows true greatness in genuinely wanting to help others.”

As we celebrate the Year of the Priest, we must pray for our religious that: (a) they remain true to their calling; (b) they be committed to spreading God’s Word to those who have gone astray, and (c) they lead us in our daily battles against temptation and sin.