06/28/2021, 15.23
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Thai prime minister to implement new rules on recognising parishes

by Steve Suwannarat

A commission will be set up to vet applications for recognition of parishes, most of which do not yet have a legal status. A parish must have a resident priest and at least 200 members before a request for recognition can be filed. The old law goes back 112 years when only the Diocese of Bangkok existed, a Church spokesperson explained.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Thailand's government issued a decree on 2 June giving Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha the power to set up a commission with the authority to officially recognise Catholic parishes. The decree was made public recently. 

At present, Thailand is home to less than 400,000 Catholics out of a population of 70 million. Very few Catholic parishes have been recognised by the authorities.

Chainarong Monthienvichienchai, head of the Media Office of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Thailand, spoke to AsiaNews about the issue.

“For 112 years the Church in Thailand has grown and developed under an old law that recognised the Catholic Mission in Bangkok as a legal entity, granting it the use of land and schools. Since then, however, the Church has evolved without changes to its legal status, which is now necessary.”

The words betray a certain pragmatism but also a certain optimism about the possibility that a new law might lead to greater certainty about the establishment of new parishes and the construction of new churches in the country.

Thailand is currently undergoing a troubled social, political and economic transition, aggravated by the pandemic, which is making it harder to find solutions to issues that have been left unresolved for some time.

The decree sets out a set of criteria for establishing new parishes. The latter must have a resident priest can to carry out his religious functions. He must live at this place, which must be at least 20 kilometres from other Catholic parishes. At least 200 Christians must live in the area and they must be able to support the parish.

Under certain circumstances, a diocese can request that the criteria – resident priest and the minimum number of faithful – be waived.

Once the commission gives the green light, the proposal to establish a parish goes to the Minister of Culture, who brings it to the cabinet. If the latter approves, the minister will draft an official decree authorising the new parish

Every year, the Religions Department will prepare a list of all parishes (with addresses, real estate properties, resident priests). Under the decree, dioceses have two years since its approval to seek recognition for existing unauthorised parishes.

This complex process and its constraints have sparked different reactions, but the hope is that it will better meet the needs of the Catholic community.

Chainarong noted that “the development of the Church has led to the creation of new dioceses, the construction of new religious buildings, an increase in the land used, and the launch of more than 300 educational initiatives; yet many facilities have not been granted legal ownership of their assets.”

The existing law was written in a bygone era. “It is not surprising that we need an updated measure that takes into account the current situation and provides greater certainty and guarantees for the future.”

For Chainarong, governments are slow to implement new laws. “This is even more so when, as in this case, it is necessary to include apparently minor but still important issues that lead to long negotiations between government representatives and the Bishops' Conference.”

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