Changes made to conform with Canon Law
By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Bishop Martin Amos came from the Cleveland Diocese where priests received the same remuneration (compensation), no matter what their position, so it surprised him to learn that the Davenport Diocese’s priests did not. A tier system with five levels had evolved with parochial vicars receiving the lowest remuneration at level 1 and other priests receiving remuneration at levels depending on the size of their parishes. That system will be replaced July 1 with a single level of remuneration for all priests. Priests will continue to receive seniority benefits based on years of ordination.
Retired priests will not be impacted by the new policy. Their financial support comes from a variety of sources and involves a much more complicated process that will be addressed at a later date, the bishop said.
The new policy is the culmination of research by Father Paul Appel, whose thesis for his canon law degree focused on remuneration; recommendations of the bishop’s appointed remuneration committee; priests’ input; and unanimous approval of the Presbyteral (Priests) Council.
Specific details include:
• A single level of remuneration for all priests. The base salary will be around $29,000. The parish also contributes toward the payment of the priest’s self-employment tax and a tax on the value of his housing.
• Current seniority benefits will remain.
• The current policy will be rewritten to remove any references to “salary,” “wage,” or “responsibility.”
• Proper law will be established for priests who have special needs (such as in the case of a married Protestant minister who enters the Church and seeks ordination).
• A fund may be established to help provide for parishes unable to provide a proper remuneration for their priest.
“For most parishes, it’s not a huge change,” Fr. Appel said. Compensation for most non-retired priests in the diocese will remain the same or increase slightly. The biggest change will be for parishes with parochial vicars. Under the existing system, a step up to the next level meant a $1,000 increase. Parochial vicars will receive increases to catch them up to the uniform remuneration level, he added.
“While this may be a difficult policy to implement, it is a matter of both justice and the law (of the Church),” Bishop Amos said. “I think this brings our remuneration into conformity with the Church’s understanding of how priests are to be remunerated.”
Use of the term “remuneration” rather than “salary” or “wages” in the new policy distinguishes the unique role of an ordained priest in ministerial service. Referring to documents from the Second Vatican Council, Fr. Appel noted that “The priestly ministry is given a broader character in order to include all the different aspects of ministry such as teaching, apostolic work, and even manual labor. As long as a priest is committed to working towards the spread of the Gospel under the direction of his bishop, he is carrying out priestly ministry. Thus, a priest’s remuneration is not directly tied to his ministry in an economic relationship. Instead, it is the very fact that he ministers as a priest that creates a claim for remuneration.”
While priests are not considered employees under the Code of Canon Law, they do pay taxes and are classified as Dual Status Tax Payers by the IRS and as self-employed by the Social Security Administration. “Generally, the parish corporation provides the church building, the priest is paid a salary, a priest’s work is an integral part of the Catholic Church, his vocation is considered permanent, and a priest usually qualifies for a variety of fringe benefits” (“2013 Income Taxes for Priests Only” guide).
Both Bishop Amos and Fr. Appel believe parishes have the ability to make the necessary financial increases for their priests. “Smaller parishes generally are part of a cluster with other parishes and will be able to divide that expense between them,” the bishop noted. “If parishes are viable, they should be able to meet the expense.”
The new policy also reflects “an effort to remove any sense of favoritism,” Fr. Appel said. A priest who responds to a call from Bishop Amos to serve a small parish in the far reaches of the diocese will receive the same level of remuneration as a priest serving a much larger parish, for example.
Priests serving in ministry at chancery headquarters will receive the same remuneration as their brother priests in parish ministry. Fr. Appel, for example, receives three-fifths of his remuneration from his parish and two-fifths from the chancery for the service he provides in the Tribunal.
Father Robert Lathrop, pastor of Church of All Saints in Keokuk, said that under the previous plan a parish’s income determined its Annual Diocesan Appeal Goal, which determined a parish’s ranking and that in turn determined the pastor’s salary.
“I believe this method of determining remuneration lent itself toward a focus on the business aspect of parish life as a priest, perhaps looking upon what we do as an occupation. However, I also believe that for some it served as a motivator toward seeking higher responsibility in ministry, such as to a larger parish or one with a school.”
The new policy, he believes, “puts us all on the same playing field and serves to refocus our vision of what we do as priests to being a vocation, pure and simple. Some have said that this will make some parish assignments in the diocese more difficult to fill, but I don’t believe this. I think our priests are committed to their ministry of serving the People of God in our diocese, wherever they are needed.”