A longish blog post is making the rounds right now, in which a Catholic lay employee is looking at a new national study on what priests earn and concluding that priests have it easy compared to lay employees of the Church.
As someone who worked for the Church for a decade and who knows many priests (and even lived in a parish rectory for a number of years), I think I have some insight. Here’s my general reaction to A.J. Boyd’s article: While he makes some good points, he paints with too broad a brush, universalizing anecdotal data; being selective with other data to reinforce his point; and missing data that would undermine his point. He’s also unnecessarily hostile to priests1.
Now, I am on record as saying that I think the Church needs to do better by its lay employees. I think that some of the policies I and other have encountered are downright unjust and while others may be in line with secular practice, the Church should live up to her principles and do better. Let’s also stipulate that most lay employees of the Church give what’s often called the “Church discount” in their salary, i.e. they could make much more at comparable private sector jobs.
I’ll take his points one by one, but I want to first begin by refuting his premise:
Fr. Scrooge’s attitude got me thinking about the apparent disparity between compensation for equally qualified people with a vocation to ecclesial ministry.
Look at two people of reasonably comparable demographic – single, no children, with undergraduate and graduate degrees in theology/divinity, committed to a life of ministry in the Church – and consider them in a similar parish, similar ministry, with similar qualifications, experience, and responsibility. One is a priest, the other a lay ecclesial minister.
You can’t compare the spiritual vocation of a priest and the apostolate of a layman, even one who has entered a lay ministry position (e.g. youth minister). A priest has been called by God, formed by the Church, and ordained by his bishop in a vocation he will retain in most cases until his death. He has made a lifelong commitment that isn’t easily broken (albeit some do), while a layman can switch jobs whenever a better opportunity comes along.