Bishops discuss Catholic church's woes in Asia

Mixed marriages, dwindling entrants to the priesthood and violence against its members are among problems facing the Catholic church in Asia, bishops said at a conference here Saturday.

Inter-religious marriages have helped the number of Catholics to fall even further, Philippine Archbishop Orlando Quevedo told a meeting of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC) being held Manila this weekend.

Catholics who marry outside the church in countries where they were part of a minority often converted to their spouse’s religion, said Quevedo, secretary-general of the FABC.

Many bishops also said there was difficulty attracting young men to the priesthood because of poverty and the secularisation of society.

Poverty meant that many parents found it "a big sacrifice to give up their young son" to a seminary, Pakistani Archbishop John Saldanha said.

"More girls are joining the convents now than the boys entering the seminaries," he added.

"The number of vocations is going down. The Christian families have fewer children and the reason is secularisation of the society," Cardinal Oswald Gracias of India said.

Hong Kong Bishop John Tong said "materialistic tendencies" were also an obstacle, but remarked that there had been an increase in the territory’s seminarians, to 15 this year from 10 last year.

Sources who asked not to be identified also said that the bishops discussed the issue of Asian governments who did not do enough to protect Christian minorities under attack in their countries.

Quevedo said the FABC was preparing a document that "will mention endemic corruption in countries in Asia, not just the Philippines but corruption in most of the governments of Asia."

The FABC represents dioceses from across Asia, including Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Myanmar, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.