Priests as Temporary Foreign Workers – Why Not Employ Canadian Women?

And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers….   Luke 10:2


We have recently been hearing quite a bit about the importing of “temporary workers” from foreign countries. A problem has arisen among Canadian citizens who are losing their jobs because of the practice. The most high-profile case was the Royal Bank of Canada. They not only hired workers from a foreign country to replace people with up to 25 years of seniority in their jobs. They insisted that these soon-to-be-unemployed workers train the newcomers to take over. The Canadian public was outraged.

The fact that corporations are going to all the trouble of bringing workers into the country indicates that there is no shortage of work – indeed, the harvest is plentiful. The misinformation that is being used to excuse the practice is that the labourers are few – which is blatantly untrue. Canadians are eager to do the work and keep their jobs, as they told the Canadian media in an appeal for support. What’s going on then? Is this some new evil creeping into the Canadian employment scene? Not at all.

The Roman Catholic Church is a clear example of this practice – in fact, it offers a template for those hoping to take advantage of any number of loopholes in immigration and citizenship policies in this country. Roman Catholic corporate leaders have, for some time now, been bringing foreign workers into the country even though there are quite capable Canadian workers being denied jobs. The loophole? The available Canadian workers would be women. Since women have been denied the right to be educated and trained in the Roman Catholic priesthood, a loophole has been created whereby foreign workers can be imported to take these positions.

Those studying the problem of the temporary foreign worker loopholes have an opportunity to gain some perspective on the consequences of the practice for Canadian society. They would do well to take a look at what has happened in the Roman Catholic Church as more and more of its priests struggle to do their jobs in a foreign context. Both foreign priests and their parishioners struggle with issues arising from great differences in every dimension of their relationship – language, culture, ethics, socialization and spirituality. Since Catholics don’t have any input into the process of hiring priests, they believe they are without recourse in situations where this practice of the Church is concerned. The practice is poised to escalate, bringing more and more priests in from foreign countries to work in Canada, since fewer and fewer North American males are opting for employment in the priesthood.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms here in Canada should be enough to prevent this loophole being used, since gender is not a lawful reason for denying opportunity in the workplace, or anywhere else in society – in theory if not in practice. The Church, however, has had carte blanche to discriminate against women in its employment practices all along. Hence, it has taken advantage of the opportunity to import foreign priests to work in Canada even though it would be possible to train and employ Canadian priests for the work.

This practice among business corporations has been blamed for creating a third world in Canada. Many of these immigrant workers, brought over through the “skilled workers” loophole, are denied fair wages and end up living in conditions of poverty and indignity. Of course, paying the workers much less than their Canadian counterparts in order to increase profit margins was the whole intent of adopting the practice in the first place.     

A different problem is being created as the Church endorses and makes full use of its right to import foreign workers. The situation is different in the Church. What we are seeing there is the unfettered growth of a global priestly caste system instead. While the outcomes and problems of the importing of temporary worker priests have been different, and while excuses for the practice abound among the hierarchy and laity both, the fact is that the practice is endorsing discrimination against women and is extending that endorsement to sustain and strengthen the existence of an all-male priestly caste system. This is not a Canadian problem. It is an international problem. Is this practice good and necessary? Or, as I would argue, is it a practice to be confronted – if not in a reasonable dialogue with the Church’s leaders, then in an examination of the legal recourse women have to full and equal opportunity for employment in Canada?

The labourers are not few. They are waiting just outside the gate, indignantly watching as opportunity passes them by. Might it be possible to effect a change in this employment practice in the Church by an appeal to Canadian law? I say, it’s worth taking a look. By changing our understanding of the priestly occupation from a position of divine appointment to one of employment, maybe we can begin developing a different language and ethos in which to frame the discussion.


About Kathryn Perry

Kathryn Perry, MDiv, is an alumna of Regis College, Toronto. She is the author of The Courage To Dare: The Spirituality of Catherine Donnelly, Founder of the Sisters of Service (Novalis 2013).
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3 Responses to Priests as Temporary Foreign Workers – Why Not Employ Canadian Women?

  1. heather says:

    brilliant take! try going at it from another angle! this should definitely be looked into!

  2. heather says:

    i do not mean to belittle the work that foreign priests do here, i only mean that there are plenty of capable women here that are eager to do the work as well!

    • I know what you mean! In order to entertain something new, it doesn’t mean we are not appreciative of what has been historically the case. New challenges call for new thinking! Thanks for comments.

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