Wages of Catholic Ministerial Employees are on Par With Protestant Denominations

Prior to entering the Seminary, I was a choir director, cantor and organist in Catholic Parishes. In those days, (early 1980s), it was widely held that working for a Catholic Parish meant your were going to be paid poorly. The “real money” was made working for Protestant congregations. Concerns were raised (many of them legitimate) among Catholic liturgists and musicians that Catholic parishes needed to rethink their priorities, and pay more just and competitive wages, if we were ever going to rescue Catholic music from the amateurish state it largely was in in the 1980s.

It would seem, according to a recent CARA report that a lot of progress has been made in this direction. And this is true not only in terms of musicians, but also other professional positions. The CARA report says,

A companion piece to the CARA research released in the Emerging Models project’s The Changing Face of U.S. Catholic Parishes is the National Association of Church Personnel Administrators report, Pay & Benefits Survey of Catholic Parishes….One of many interesting findings is how similar wages and salaries are for Catholic parish ministers and those working in similar capacities in Protestant churches in the United States. (See Chart above right). The Protestant data used by NACPA are from Protestant: 2010 Church Staff Compensation Survey.

More on the CARA report here: Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) Blog.

It would seem that we have largely closed the gap in terms of wage comparisons with the Protestant denominations. As a pastor, I think this is good news. I have come to depend greatly on competent and well trained laity doing parish work. I have a very fine staff here at my parish. My administrative assistant and business manager is the best and daily brings great wisdom and experience to bear on parish issues.  My music director is top drawer, and nationally known. My support staff are all excellent. What a blessing.

It is also a fact that the parish has come to bat in the offertory and are well formed in their understanding of what it takes to run a parish where we pay just wages, and strive for excellence in the service of the Lord. I remain humbly grateful to my congregation for their immense generosity and Love of God. Biblical tithing has been embraced by most of the parishioners here who though small in number, yearly generate an offertory income of almost one million dollars.

Money is sign of what we value. Catholics who regularly toss down $50-100 to take the family to the movies, or even more to go to sports events, and then toss $10 in the collection basket are saying something about what they value. Likewise, Catholics who direct 10% of their income to God’s house in obedience to his word (cf Malachi 3:10, inter al) are also saying something.

Further, parishes that pay significant wages for administrative leadership, music and catechetical ministry are also saying something about the value associated with these works in God’s house. Money does have something to say about what we value.

I realize that what I say here is not without controversy. Some prefer to emphasize volunteerism in parish settings. Well enough, and volunteerism must continue to have an important place in parishes. For just as with money, what people do with their time is also an important indicator of what they value.

But there must be a proper balance or proportion at work. Music and liturgy, parish administration and catechesis are essential and important post that ought to be staffed by well trained and well paid individuals. It will surely be the job of such individuals to engage volunteers, and train good leaders to assist them. But in the end, we have to be willing to have well trained people in essential posts and be willing to pay them wages commensurate with both “the market” and also with the value we attribute to their work. And that value is significant. Further, we ought to be willing to pay just wages, with benefits to those whose work approaches full time.

Pastors do well to form their congregations around such notions so that God’s house will not be an afterthought in their lives and financial priorities. In preaching biblical tithing, I often emphasize that God gets the FIRST tenth of our income, not the tenth that is (hopefully) leftover after we pay the cable bill and for the latest iPad.

I also realize that some will comment that they don’t like the money is spent or that they don’t prefer the music, the catechesis. But be careful, give and then offer concerns to the Parish Finance Council. Give and then insist on excellence. Every pastor and finance council is required to report to the congregation every year. But give critique as one who is invested (in obedience to God), rather than one who withholds until he gets what he likes. Our parishes are not products we buy, not services we contract for. They are the Body of Christ we join and become part of, financially and through service. And in the context of communion and generosity, we listen for God’s will and move forward, in conformity to Church teaching.

Alright. I was not born yesterday and realize that whenever money is in the discussion there will be strong opinions. Remember, I do not write a complete treatise here. I am starting a conversation.

24 Replies to “Wages of Catholic Ministerial Employees are on Par With Protestant Denominations”

  1. Absolutely.

    There is a wonderful mindset in the non-Catholic churches that you give God your best and this is reflected in the time and money invested in ministries and those who lead them. I remember being blown away when I saw the youth ministries, music ministries, homelessness ministries etc. in Protestant churches. If you walked into their churches it was very clear that they firmly believed in what they were doing and giving God their best. Quite frankly it made a lot of Catholic parishes look rather amateurish and half-hearted. And don’t even get me started on parish websites…

    As the proverb goes, where there is no vision the people perish. This is very true for my home back in England. In an effort to cut costs, music ministers, youth ministers, catechists etc. are generally not hired…and then people wonder which the music is average, the youth leave and the congregation are poorly formed in their faith.

    Now, I’m not knocking those people who step up to these roles as volunteers! Not at all! In my adult life I have served as a volunteer in all those areas and I know how demanding it is…especially when I haven’t really been trained for it…and when I have also had to hold down a full-time job…

    So…enough griping. Where do we begin? I think it has to begin with fostering an attitude in the parish of Christ-like service:

    Who are the ministers in this parish?

    What does it mean to be a member of this parish?
    To serve!

    Does God want to do something beautiful through His Church?
    Oh, most definitely…

  2. Epistle 244
    My some thoughts about “the homily” of Msgr. Charles Pope are here below:
    Firstly, in the homily, Msgr. Charles Pope talked about wages of Catholics and Protestants when they participated in missions of parish church such as music and liturgy, parish administration and teaching catechesim, etc.
    Secondly, now permit me to discuss some matters to relate the homily hereafter:
    I am a Doctor of Economics. Of course I very am interested in economic and financial matters of mosques and pagodas in general and the Catholic churches in particular.
    In Vietnam, most followers of religions have thought that church (mosque, pagoda) is a house to be used to worship their parents.
    Therefore, when followers come to church, that means they visit their parents and house.
    They ought to donate precious something for their parents such as their money, gifts or labors.
    While their parents give them a few words of comfort or advices, etc.
    These mean churches don’t pay wages to their followers.
    However, in fact at some churches in Vietnam, some followers including authors (writers), painters and sculptors have sold books, pictures, statues, (even sparrows or foods) of theirs.
    Hence, in Mark 11:15-19, Jesus cleared the Temple Jerusalem that “‘my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples’? But you have made it a den of thieves.”
    Thus, Jesus said that church is a house of prayer, but it is not a department store or a gift shop.
    As far as I’m concerned, I am a civil-servant and being paid salary by Vietnamese government. But I come to church to pray to God and listen to teachings of Catholic priests and sometimes I bought some holy books to study. That’s all./.

  3. Because my work as a Human Resources professional is primarily in the field of salary and benefits, this post certainly piqued my interest!

    I certainly agree that in order to have vibrant ministries one has to have qualified people to run them. I would like to point out that for some positions, Catholic parishes are competing not only with other denominations, but with all other employers. In other words, the “market” is not just “church workers;” it includes secretaries, janitors, youth counselors, and so on.

    One also should consider not only how staff positions are paid, but also for what, exactly, those positions are responsible, and what qualifications one must have in order to fulfill those responsibilities. When there is a lack of clarity about what a position entails, it can set up an incumbent for failure.

    Then, as any organization should do, candidates for positions should be carefully selected so that one has a better chance of getting someone who is a good fit. Whoever conducts the job interviews should know what they’re doing; someone who hasn’t been trained in doing so may not only be ineffective at selecting the right person, but could also expose the organization to liability if s/he asks inappropriate questions of candidates.

    I’d like to flesh out one of Restless Pilgrim’s point about volunteers: The pool of volunteers simply isn’t what it was 40 or 50 years ago. Not only have many women entered the workforce, but given concerns about the economy and security of retirement income, fewer workers are choosing to retire early, or to retire completely. Taking on some roles within a parish entails as much time as at least a part-time job, and most simply haven’t the energy for it.

  4. I haven’t read the report, but does the report control for the fact that many Protestant churches tend to be much smaller than Catholic parishes? I suspect, for example, if there were an “apples to apples” comparison, one might find that the pay differential hasn’t yet been closed between a large Presbyterian or Methodist Church and a comparably sized Catholic parish. There is also the issue of the quality of organist-choirmasters at urban or suburban Catholic parishes versus much smaller Episcopal parishes, in which the Episcopal parish is with few exceptions superior. Do the Episcopal parishes pay better? Part of that may have to do with the fact that the Episcopal parish has no school, but (it is an old and venerable parish), may have an endowment, while the Catholic parish has schools and no endowment.

    I am encouraged by the overall findings, though.

  5. As a (recent) former parish employee, I simply wanted to add a comment that you don’t address, and that is the issue of a living wage. $20/ hour might be just fine in a rural community, but what about the city? I had to leave a position I was in due to some changes in benefits that essentially made it so I couldn’t support my family anymore.

    Here, I’d note that Protestants are pro-contraception. If you want a lay Catholic working for you that follows Church teachings, then more often than not, that is going to mean more than 2.2 children. If they are younger, then that almost necessitates a stay at home mother, so the parish salary is all that is supporting many families.

    Fortunately, I know many people who would be more than glad to accept some sort of alternative compensation, such as housing– so long as it gives the family enough to live. This seems to be a standard practice in other countries, but hasn’t caught on very much in the US.

    1. I think perhaps what comprises a living wage is going to be different across the country, because I would be ecstatic if my husband were paid $20 an hour for his maintenance job instead of the pittance he receives. He and I both knew going into it he would be paid very little, but the job market is so poor we were grateful for the job offer. Our parish for which he works is very poor so there is no sense in asking for a raise, either. Our town is, I think, a bit large – I think we hit a million residents in this city a few years ago. Rather than trying to tithe as we should, I volunteer a couple days a week in the church office and he works (donates) more hours than he is paid for. We are grateful he has the job, since we still need to eat.

    2. As someone who worked for the Church for years (20) most priests (even very good and holy ones) simply do not and will not ever understand what it is like to raise a family on a Church salary. We have 5 children and could have easily had 6 or 7 (we lost some to miscarriage). Though an award winning YM, there was ‘not enough money’ in a parish with 4000 families to give me a significant raise. In the end, I burned out trying to run a huge program part time, had to step down and didn’t have a good plan B back up. We lost our home to foreclosure and I am still embittered at the Church for this. That is a reality for many who work for the Church, unfortunately, and then walk away. Things are moving in a better direction now, but $7000- $10,000 would have made a world of difference to making this work out for us.

  6. As a parish minister for almost thirty years, let me chime in, too. First, it costs money to live. That is just a fact. Not to live luxuriously, but to have money for housing, groceries, utilities, car insurance, medical necessities, and still not have to worry about whether one can afford new underwear, let alone subscribe to a magazine or go to a movie. You can laugh, but I’ve had those discussions with myself and it isn’t pretty. Especially if one is working in a fairly affluent parish. I don’t mind living on the edge of poverty to serve the poor, but I refuse to do it to serve those who alternate vacations between Aspen and Cabo.

    Second, parish ministers work very hard, for the most part. Long hours, sometimes at great sacrifice to their personal life. There is always more work to do and one feels an obligation to do it, because it is important.

    Third, I agree that the pool of volunteers is very different, even across my career. You need a competent support staff, for example, whom you have to pay. Having an army of stay-at-home moms to come in and help while the kids are in school – those days are gone.

    Fourth, parish ministers need professional expertise in theology, education, music, etc. It isn’t fair to ask people to go into debt and mortgage half their adult years, and then not pay them fairly.

    I am very fortunate that I work for a pastor who understands all this and pays us very fairly. I’m too old now to do what I did before: work a full time church job and then add a part time ‘real’ job to support myself. I did it so that I could minister. But, I can’t ask young people to make the same bargain. If we want competent ministry, we have to pay for it. (It has always been the case, but the scene has shifted in the last forty years.)

  7. Curmudgeon reminds me of another point – continuing professional education. Continuing education is important not only for clergy, but also for lay leaders. In order to be effective they need to maintain their skills, and in some cases they need catechesis if what they had in the past was lacking.

  8. Ha ha ha ha! This is so funny I can’t believe it. I know Chancery employees who make under 30,000, and they are professionals. I know Rel Ed people who may make 15 an hour over 40 hours, but they have to work 60 hours a week. I know near-retirement age Catholic employees reduced to half time with no benefits when they are the sole support of a sick spouse.

  9. And then I know the people who do the ground work of ministry, rather than the admin….and most of them work for free.

  10. Wish I could give more or some on some days. Jobless & bills are killing but have said if land a job I will go above & beyond what I owe

  11. Tell this to my husband who used to be maintenance manager for a medium-sized parish in northeast PA. He was paid $10/hr! Now, this is just not acceptable, not in today’s world, not in the fact that he had a large new church, plus 3 other buildings to maintain, plus the grounds.

    Unfortunately, this pastor, is very well treated by his little coterie who surround him night and day. I’m sure this attempt at a wage was handed down to him by them, after all, they run the parish. The Church does a great job at preaching equity for all, but it doesn’t understand that one needs to make a certain amount of money in this life, in order to pay the bills!

    My husband worked long and hard when he was there; I sincerely doubt, to this day, that they have gotten anyone comparable. He was there rain or shine or ice or snow, while the pastor was cruising in the Caribbean with his fellow parishioners!

    We have since moved on to a small parish which offers the Tridentine mass every Sunday, and we couldn’t be happier! I am a lifelong Catholic, and have my serious issues with the Church. Ever since the laity has been let in the door, it’s been a circus, or at least a psuedo-broadway show every weekend!

    1. Uggh…this reminds me of 2 pastors I worked with. One was really bad, but the other routinely flew all over the world — where he got the money is still a mystery. Some parishioners even ran into him one time roaming the streets of Nassau, Bahamas. This, at the same place, where there was never enough money for my ministry (Youth) or to increase my salary. Yet, he cruised around the world by himself or with parishioners (on ‘spiritual’ cruises or ‘spiritual’ pilgrimages to Rome, the Holy Land, cruises in the Mediterranean, etc.). “Father, can you join us this Sunday at Youth Group?” “Sorry. Going out of town till Wednesday morning.”

  12. As someone who worked in youth ministry for 7 years at the parish level, I’d have to say mentioning a living wage in the same sentence as parish salaries seems like a joke. One simply cannot support a family on one salary if that salary comes from a parish – a fact commonly known in the field. The only ones who survive are those that have outside benefactors. It is not even possible at the diocesan level and the requirements for those positions usually include a masters degree! Protestant churches are usually much smaller and have more paid staff positions, so the DRE has paid catechists working for them. Also, youth ministry is usually an ordained position that one passes through on the way to a positions a pastor, not the upper echelon of the career ladder. So, I am not sure we are comparing apples to apples here. Then, if you factor in the benefits package, well, let’s not go there.

  13. Very interesting what the responses have been.
    I’m involved myself wherever I’m needed and find it very rewarding, and it is not a paid position,
    but I hear those who are paid and they grumble.

    1. esiul,

      A lot of people volunteer and give of their time for the parish, and we are very grateful. And I find my work very rewarding, but when I’m working 50+ hours a week at the parish and still have to get a second job to pay the bills, it’s hard not to get frustrated at the low pay.

  14. The point about the relative size of Protestant vs. Catholic congregations is a good one. I have a friend who pastors an urban Lutheran church. They have two services a Sunday with a combined attendance of under sixty people. She deals with three or four children a year for catechesis; I see about 550. Her music director prepares one service a Sunday; ours is responsible for 5, in three different languages. They might see one wedding a year – maybe. We routinely deal with about 150 couples preparing for marriage. And, it goes on. Some things don’t increase by scale. (Whether the choir sings for 10 or 1000, there is the same amount of time spent in directing them.) Other things are greatly magnified by the scale – just keeping track administratively of all those weddings involves the attention of six people on our staff – not full time attention for any one, but a significant amount of time for each of us.

  15. Of all institutions the Catholic Church needs to lead the way in paying Just Wages to its lay employees! After all, she has taught eloquently on the topic in the social justice encyclicals going back 120 years: Rerum Novarum (1891), Quadrigesimo Anno (1931) — to JPII’s Centisumus Annus (1991) and his 1987 cringe-inducing Solicitudo Rei Socialis. See all in summary or full text at: http://www.educationforjustice.org/catholic-social-teaching/encyclicals-and-documents

    Recently in a local parish the diligent longtime full-time custodian (who was not particularly well paid) was told by the new pastor that his hours would be cut back significantly as the parish could not afford to pay him due to the parish debt. His salary supported family members and he had to quit.

    Rather than paying poor wages and cutting back employee hours, might it be considered that pastors need to get up in the pulpits and preach powerfully on the Church’s teaching on just wages and other topics addressed in these powerful encyclicals. Instead of paying poorly, or firing, maybe more pastors need to fire up the congregation with the truths of our Church.

    Let’s face it: we all know the average weekly offering in many RC parishes is pathetic, averaging a few dollars – or even less. Yet we also all know most of us in North America have the money for a case of 2-4, a bottle of wine, or a trip to the movies. If parishioners upped their weekly offering to at least $5.00 I suspect many financial problems in parishes would be addressed – and employees might enjoy a just wage.

  16. Speaking of wages, be advised that in some dioceses priests can be seriously underpaid. As the mother of a priest, my family knows firsthand that some priests have almost nothing left from their salaries after their student loans, car payments and medical & personal expenses are met. Many rectories do not have cooks resulting in priests with very few dollars in their pockets eating fast food junk as they run between assignments. Few Catholics understand that there is no uniform USCCB policy in this area. It would be a blessing if all dioceses would absorb the priest’s student loans after ordination. I have to wonder what the pay scale for the ‘Anglican-Catholic’ priests with families who are coming into the Roman Catholic Church is going to be compared to our own home-grown priests.

  17. Hi,

    I feel I must respond to this. I cannot speak for the pay situation in Washington, D.C., but where I am in Pennsylvania I must say that, at least in regards to organists, the pay in my area is very substandard compared to that in the Protestant church. You have some excellent thoughts which I totally agree with. This statement – “Music and liturgy, parish administration and catechesis are essential and important post that ought to be staffed by well trained and well paid individuals.” – I agree with completely. However, such is not the case in many Catholic parishes in my local area.

    I am a basically full-time organist in my church, and my level of compensation today is less than what I was being compensated in the Lutheran and U.C.C church 30 years ago. And so I don’t think a blanket statement such as – “It would seem that we have largely closed the gap in terms of wage comparisons with the Protestant denominations.” – is at all accurate, and I don’t think you have fully ‘done your homework’, so to speak, with regards to this concern. I cannot speak for clergy or other parish administrators, but as an organist in the Catholic church for the past 11 years, I know that there is still apparently a significant divide in how compensation if viewed between Catholic and non-Catholic denominations. I can understand a lower level of compensation for a lay organist who has little training, little experience, and wants to help out with the music ministry, but, in my case, I have 2 college degrees in music, formal training on the organ, and over 40 years of experience as an organist. I believe the thinking that exists in the minds of many is that the organist sits on the bench for an hour a week and thus is really not deserving of much compensation. However, the truth of the matter is that for every hour I spend playing the Mass, probably 10 hours are devoted to things like
    choosing music on a weekly basis, considering registration to be used for that music, figuring out any necessary fingering and pedaling, and practicing.

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