LUANDA, Angola (CNS) — A regional bishops’ conference representative in southern Africa warned that none of the conferences have set up policies for the financial and other support of clergy.

“At best, we have seen pious statements not supported by real, serious policy decisions,” said Father Dumisani Vilakati, who heads the pastoral department of the Zimbabwe-based Inter-Regional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa, known as IMBISA.

Father Vilakati, a diocesan priest from Manzini, Swaziland, addressed the first congress of the clergy held by the bishops’ conference of Angola, Sao Tome and Principe Aug. 17. The self-sustainability of the clergy was the theme of the meeting in the Angolan capital of Luanda.

The fact that the region’s bishops’ conferences have not planned for clergy support causes “lots of anxiety among members of the clergy, who more often than not embark on self-help projects to make ends meet,” Father Vilakati said.

While priests doing self-help projects “is not bad in itself, this may hamper the work of the church as more time and energy are spent on projects and activities that are at times foreign to the missionary spirit expected of the clergy,” he said.

“It is a pity that after a hundred years” since Pope Benedict XV’s 1919 apostolic letter “Maximum illud” on the church’s missionary activity, “not even one episcopal conference in the IMBISA region has created a policy on the proper care, material and financial support for members of the clergy,” he said.

In southern Africa, churches mostly make their own arrangements for the sustenance and remuneration of priests, Father Vilakati said.

“There is, in the main, a stable figure that gets paid to the priests every month,” but monthly stipends and other allowances vary among different conferences, he said.

“Some priests fall in the cracks,” Father Vilakati said, noting that “this is especially true when it comes to the giving of regular monthly allowances, holiday allowances and medical assistance.”

Even within countries, priests often have very different economic situations, he said.

Dioceses that create a fair system of sharing resources are “few and varied,” Father Vilakati said. Their good practices should be modeled by others in the region, along with transparent administration, he said.

Father Vilakati noted that his research included only diocesan clergy, especially those engaged in parish work.