African dioceses are increasingly reluctant to send priests to Europe

When Fr Joseph Longo arrived in France from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2003, he planned to stay just a few months to complete a philosophy doctorate. Today, having run large parish clusters in different dioceses, he has become one of many resident African priests helping to sustain the French Church.

It was hardly surprising that Fr Longo was prevailed upon to stay. Over the last half century the number of priests in France has been reduced by three quarters. Within six months of studying at Toulouse University’s Catholic faculty, Fr Longo had been asked to take over the medieval St Barthelemy’s Church at nearby Lauzerte, which also involved looking after 18 other parishes.

He is one of 1,800 foreign priests officially ministering in France, mostly from former colonies in Africa. The figure is nearly a fifth of the total number of diocesan clergy – 11,500. An unknown number of priests are also here without authorisation. And recently there have been signs of discontent at what some African bishops see as a new “ecclesiastical migration”.

In May, the Ivory Coast’s bishops’ conference complained that more and more priests were going missing in Europe and ignoring instructions to return after completing study and pastoral assignments. (It’s not just France: in Italy, for instance, up to 40 per cent of parishes are run by foreign-born clergy.)

“The situation is worsening and we have to speak out and take a common stand, so the dioceses hosting our priests will understand our position,” Bishop Ignace Bessi Dogbo of Katiola, the bishops’ conference president (pictured), told the Catholic La Croix daily.

​How to continue reading…

This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week

The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection