NOW and again
priests have a god grouse. About e bishop, maybe, or a out there being too any changes in the ass, or too few; about their curate or t eir parish priest.
nd much of their c iticism is justified.
ut there is one subjoct you rarely hear them grumble about. Pew priests complain that they are short of money.
I And the fact is that. on short of money. Most of i t e whole, priests are not them have a standard of living comparable with the majority of their parish loners and when it comes to fringe benefits—such as holidays priests appear to be better off.
It is not lack of money that worries priests. It is the way they get their money, According to Canon Law a bishop is obliged to maintain his priests and a priest is entitled to reasonable support. What constitutes "reasonable support" varies little from diocese to diocese.
Every priest receives full board and lodging from his parish wherever the parish can afford it. If he works as a curate in the Liverpool Archdiocese he will receive. in addition. £70 a year compared with £120 for a parish priest.
On the other hand. a curate in the Southwark Archdiocese is not entitled to any salary if his income from other sources is above a certain figure (£150 for those ordained less than ten years and £170 for others). A parish priest in that diocese receives El 00.
Other dioceses set their salaries somewhere between Liverpool and Southwark. In Brentwood, Essex, for example. curates receive £80 a year and parish priests £100. Portsmouth gives its curates £78 and the parish priests receive £104. Nobody, of course, is expected to live on these tiny sums of money. A priest makes up his salary by Mass offerings. stoll fees (a gift for performing a baptism. wedding or funeral). and Christmas and Easter offerings.
He is alloWed to accept one Mass offering per day. If he gets a full week of offerings—and in spite of a drop in these there are still plenty te be had—a priest can collect £3 10s. a week. Parish. priests come off a little worse than their curates on this one since they have certain obligatory Masses during the year for which there is no payment.
The stoll fees and Easter and Christmas offerings obviously vary according to the size and affluence of the parish. probably between £60 and £400 a year.
For an average size parish a priest should clear £10 a week.. With this he can do what he likes. However, it is only fair to point out that he has to meet all kinds of expenses from his salary: suits. cassocks, books and so on. though, more often than not, the parish will give him a car allowance. Many parish priests in better-off parishes forgo their salaries.
There are parishes in Wales and Scotland where these figures would make nonsense: those with 30 parishioners spread over many square miles. It is possible in one diocese to find a situation where a priest in a town parish is reasonably comfortable and a priest in a rural area has just about enough to live on.
Develop that a little further and you will see that the rural priest who really does need a car just cannot afford one. unlike the town priest whose parish is likely to be heavily concentrated over a small area making walking a more sensible solution.
This situation worries many priests. So does the manner in which they receive their money. One described himself to me this week as "an ecclesiastical beggar." What he meant in plain words. he explained, was that he cannot rely on support from the organisation which employs him. He has to sell the results of his priesthood: the Mass and the Sacraments.
Another priest I talked to said: "I took Communion to a man this morning and as I left he gave me 10s. Now why should that man expect to give me money for taking hint Communion and why should I have to accept it?"
I .ike many other priests he felt the "tip" cheapened the work of the ministry.
This matter of remuneration for priests is under discussion in several diocesan priests' senates set up since the Vatican Council. but so far nobody has come up with an acceptable solution. One problem is that any change in the system will also require a change in Canon Law.
There is also the question of whether any new scheme should be on a national or diocesan level.
The Catholic Church is not alone in trying to deal with this problem. In 1960 the Church Assembly asked Mr. Leslie Paul to look into the question of the payment of Anglican clergy. He published his findings four years later in a 300-page report called The Deployment and Payment of the Clergy.
Since then conditions of service have improved somewhat for Anglican clergy, though the report's suggestions have not been fully put into effect.
Those who are attempting to work out a new system of payment for priests say that the matter is a highly complicated one. Besides the Canon Law problem there are several questions which cannot be answered without substantial research. For example, haw much should a priest receive? And if he receives a set salary what happens to Mass offerings and stoll fees'? DC5 all priests receive the same salary? Who pays for their car?
One parish in the South of England has found a fairly successful answer to these questions. All Mass offerings and stoll fees go into general parish funds. Each priest receives £20 a month plus his keep. and a car allowance and Easter and Christmas offerings. This comes to about £9 a week.
The priests concerned arc happy with the arrangement and so are their parishioners.
Other priests would say that this is not enough. "The same idea persists in the Church as used to persist in the nursing profession," one said. "The idea was that you shouldn't pay nurses too much. otherwise you would attract the wrong type of person.
"That is a lot of eyewash because no matter how much you pay people most of them wouldn't take up nursing." This priest has not worked out how much he should be paid. but he thought that something in the region of £15 a week woukl not he unreasonable.
One diocese in Britain has solved the problem of paying its priests with equality and without run ning into trouble over Canon Law. Argyll and the Isles. Scotland, is one of the smallest and poorest dioceses in the country.
Bishop McGill is responsible for 24 parishes, 26 outstations, and 11,000 Catholics. The biggest parish is around the 1,000 mark and the smallest can count on 70 at Sunday Mass.
Because so many of the parishes in the diocese could not afford to support a priest a central fund was established and into this go all the collections. Larger parishes obviously contribute more than the smaller ones. but all the priests receive exactly the same amount to live on.
"In this way," Bishop McGill says, "we make sure that none of our priests has to live on fresh air and salt water." Perhaps other dioceses should take a closer look at the Bishop's scheme.