If a man was interested in riches, the priesthood is probably the last road he’d choose to take. So, it’s a good job that priests understand their role as a call from God rather than a profitable way of life. Priestly remuneration is often shrouded in secrecy – especially in Ireland. Elphin is alone among Irish dioceses is publishing on its website details of how much parish priests and curates are paid. Disappointingly, some dioceses – Cashel and Emly and Meath – pointedly refused to reveal the information, evidently believing that it’s not for the People of God to know such details.
I suspect that many people will be surprised at how modestly priests are paid. Not that priests complain – they don’t. In almost 15 years reporting on Church affairs, I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard a priest grumble about his financial compensation – and even then, it was often in jest.
What does annoy priests, however, are widely-held erroneous notions about priestly finances. I’m thinking of the ignorant idea that many people have that priests’ cars are purchased out of parish funds. They aren’t – priests are responsible for buying and running (tax, insurance, fuel, maintenance etc.) their own cars. Likewise, while priests don’t pay for their accommodation, they are responsible for paying for their own food, telephone bills and many other household costs.
Priests do not receive travel expenses so visits to hospitals, first Friday calls and other sick calls are at their own expense.
It’s not uncommon for some parishioners to believe that the Sunday collection is simply split evenly between the priests of the parish. Whereas, in truth, these collections go to cover the spiralling expenses of maintaining churches and other parochial property.
These collections oftentimes also fund the care of retired priests and other diocesan expenses. Many parishes don’t raise enough in their Sunday collection to cover the weekly expenses and have to rely on contributions from other parishes to make ends meet.
Retirement and pensions are an increasing concern for priests. Many men continue to work beyond the traditional Church retirement age of 75 in order to guarantee a regular income. Some priests may be lucky enough to have inherited a family home or managed to buy a property for retirement down the years, but many others must rely on what is provided for them by the diocese in retirement.
This week’s survey in The Irish Catholic sheds light on an issue that many Catholics know very little about. Time and again, in compiling these statistics, priests were at pains to point out that they are not complaining about their financial situation. But, one thing is very clear: most priests are not well off by any stretch of the imagination – they earn considerably less than the average industrial wage and many priests surely rely on the occasional tenner or fiver they receive from grateful parishioners.