Ka-ching: the salaries of clergy

One of the most common questions I get asked from the people in the pews is: “What does the parish pay you?”  The answer: Nada.  Zip. Zilch.  Zero.  I receive no salary from the parish.  I don’t get stipends for Masses, baptisms or weddings, either. Deacons are, in every sense, volunteers.  Our “outside” jobs support us and our families, and enable us to exercise our ministry.

But that’s not true for some other clergy members, who do get paid, and sometimes handsomely:

Among the leaders of the world’s major religions, rabbis tend to have higher annual salaries than their Catholic, Christian and Muslim counterparts, according to a new report by Slate.

Both Reform and Conservative rabbis earn an estimated average annual salary of around $140,000, while the median salary for full-time pastors at Protestant churches was just $40,000, the Jewish Daily Forward reports. Catholic priests and Muslim imams make even less, with average salaries of about $25,000 and $30,000 per year, respectively….

…A 2011 survey conducted by PayScale discovered that rabbis had an average annual salary of about $80,000, according to eHow Money. The report points out that the number varies depending on years of experience and where they preach.

And salaries for ministers and pastors among Christian denominations, on the other hand, can sometimes be as high as 400,000, according to the Christian Post.

Compared to other religious leaders, Catholic priests were paid the least, with the Archdiocese of Cincinnati (Ohio) indicating they pay their priests a $26,884 base salary.

Salaries also vary significantly among imams, and, as Slate observes, there isn’t a lot of data on pay rates for the Muslim leaders.

However, an imam in Tennessee reported making between $31,000 and $34,000 per year on the online salary site Glassdoor. Similarly, a search of job listing website Simply Hired revealed an average salary of about $41,000 for the career.

Comments

  1. Well, yes, but Catholic priests receive fringe benefits the rest of us can only dream of: paid housing, perhaps a housecleaner, a maintenance staff, etc.

    My husband is not paid for his diaconal service, but IS paid as pastoral associate at the parish. If memory serves me, the pastor receives less remuneration than others on the parish staff–because of the built-in perks.

  2. Fr. Shaun Lowery, OSFS says:

    Those built-in perks aren’t freebies. Diocesan priests in parishes can be taxed as small business owners. Their housing could be considered part of their income as well as a food stipend, if they receive one from the parish (which is a set amount per month and not a blank check). Each diocese has its own policy on amounts. Car insurance may or may not be included in the diocesan priest’s stipend. Purchase and maintenance of a vehicle is the priest’s responsibility. Gas is a priest’s responsibility until the priest’s work/ministry mileage exceeds a set amount negotiated by the diocese. (This might affect a priest hospice chaplain who makes many more house calls than even a parish priest would, for example.) Health insurance is provided but the quality depends again on the diocesan plan. As more dioceses try to save money, the quality of health care policies and the amount of co-pays the priest is responsible for goes up. Priests are also allowed vacation time, a weekly single day off, time off for a annual retreat, and time away for an annual convocation or priest/religious congregation gathering. That also sounds great, but the priest is responsible for finding someone to cover for him when he’s away from the parish. With the number of retired priests we have becoming older, less mobile and less able to help, it’s sometimes hard to find another priest to cover Mass leaving a pastor to either cancel Masses (which for many priests is agonizing/unheard of to consider because of their work ethic) or work through his vacation or retreat time. The parish priest works on average 50-70 hours per week. (There’s a great article written by an Orthodox priest here: http://almoutran.com/2011/04/1116)

    People may think living at a rectory is a fringe benefit, but in older parishes where the offices and living quarters’ boundaries are sometimes blurred, it’s not so great a perk to find the maintenance man, the office cleaning person and/or the secretary in your kitchen early in the morning having a cup of coffee and using your favorite coffee mug. Plus, could you imagine any of your more compulsive co-workers, clients, or customers always knowing when you use the bathroom because, “Father, I saw your light on last night?” Priests whose rectories are homes in the neighborhoods of their parishes don’t necessarily have more privacy either. Often everyone knows where Father lives, moves and has his being. While some priests’ personalities aren’t rattled by this, for others, especially priests coming into the priesthood from prior careers and living situations, this is particularly interesting to adjust to to say the least.

    People also need to remember that many retired diocesan priests live on fixed incomes. In many dioceses housing is the retired priest’s responsibility to find and pay for. It’s hard to pay for housing if you didn’t start saving for retirement early. Everyone knows it’s hard to save for retirement when you make a base salary of $26,000 per year. It is not an issue of budgeting or irresponsible fiscal management. Diocesan priest retirement funds don’t always cover cost of living expenses for retired priests, especially medical expenses. Many parishes (again, depending on the diocese) don’t let retired priests stay in a rectory for free. Room/board is sometimes charged even if the priest occasionally covers some Masses for the parish. That’s why generously supporting diocesan and religious retirement funds is so important.

    Catholic priests aren’t in it for the money or the “perks.” (In saying that I’m not suggesting that other ministers are.) No one goes through seminary formation and responds to the Lord thinking about how great it will be to live in a fishbowl, have little security in retirement, and work til you die or just can’t function anymore. The clear majority of priests recognize their privileged position in the parish and the greater community and are humbled by both the status that priesthood still sometimes brings and the constant opportunity to serve God’s people. That opportunity is the true, life-giving perk. When parishioners are generous in anyway toward their priests it is very much appreciated, often helpful, always thoughtful, and one of many measurable ways to affirm them in their ministry and vocation.

  3. Oregon Catholic says:

    Financial perks? I don’t think so. In my area where the parishes are newer there are no rectories. Most priests rent apartments. I think parishioners should do more to thank their priests and deacons than just shaking their hands after Mass. Why not consider a gift card to a local grocery/one stop and a nice note now and then to help extend their pitifully small salary. A gift card from Amazon or a local Catholic bookstore so they can buy spiritual books would probably always be welcome. Or fresh produce from your garden in the summer. Or…

  4. Really? As a former seminarian and kind of an insider, I can tell you that there are plenty of priests who do quite well on their salaries BECAUSE a lot parishioners give them gifts etc. For instance, two of my former clasmates who were ordained have done fine. One has 3 vehicles (donated by by parishoners), has a slot machine in his rectory, runs a woman’s rehab center, takes nice vacations (including hunting trips etc)because he has many “fans” so to speak who finance him. Another, who grew up in a rural part of our state, has, on salary of no more than $28000 a year, purchased an 80 acre farm where he will retire after his service as a priest. My best friend, works in the wealthiest parish in our diocese and his pastor is regularly treated to a week in Florida at the home of a wealthy parishioner who flies his family andn the pastor down there in his private plane. The pstor is also fond of very expensive cigars and scotch, but he he is well liked by his parshioners so they treat him. Other get treated to dinners, concerts, major league sporting events, nice Chritmas gift AND MORE THAN ANYTHING else great helath insurance that lay staff can only dream of. Like many dioceses have clergy pensions while their lays staff’s asre stuck with 401k’s. Count the freebies many priests get and they do ok, at least here they do. The fornmer associate there, ordained in 2008, who is now in Washington D.C. studying to be a marriage tribunal judge, told my friend that he was banking ALL his paychecks. He also has an antique truck that he is restoring.
    Finally, on a personal note, my uncle, who retired in 1980 after 40 years as priest, including a stint a army chaplin in WW2, founding pastor, dean and consultor the bishop, retired pretty well. In fact, WHEN he served as priest, he still managed nice winter vacations in Florida, including trips to the track, and New York to see Broadway shows When he died in 1994, he left an estate of over $250K. I am not implying ANY impropriety of the part of these priests, but I AM saying that they have advantages that the rest of us don’t have because of their staus and the fact that many have well meaning family and friends who treat them to various gifts etc.

  5. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    A priest I know regularly dispenses the following advice to seminarians: start squirreling away your money NOW, because you can’t count on the church to care for you later. Another priest I know is a big believer in priests having a place of their own, because life in a rectory 24/7 can drive you nuts. You need to get away every now and then.

    Financially, some priests fare better than others. Some have jobs as chaplains (for jails or hospitals) that pay decently, on top of the money they earn from their dioceses, and some collect additional pensions — either from jobs they previously held in the secular world, or from positions with city or state agencies. And I know a few who have inherited property from relatives — often, from their parents — and either keep the places as private getaways, or sell them and invest the money for later.

    Dcn. G.

  6. I do not usually join in on discussion boards, etc. Usuallhy, I send Decon Greg an email. However, in this case I would like to add my perspective. I have lived in both the clerical and lay worlds and am a practicing Catholic. Compensation for priests varies around the country, depedning on the diocese and he parish. pol and Fr. Shaun both make valid points. For me, diocesan priests are fairly compensated for the work they do. The average parish priest will not become rich, but he will not want for anything either. This is because of the “perks” and because the people in the pews are generous.

  7. Thanx Mr. Koval. I’m glad SOMEONE HERE getd my point. Decaon Kandra made MY point with fewer words. How many rank and file Catholics, especially those with children, can afford a “get a way” place. How many can afford to salt away for retirement? These days pretty few. YET, the Church come again and again for more money.

  8. Around here I don’t see priests so much getting gifted with the big ticket items; but people want to share what they have. My dad (a cattle rancher) always made a point of giving the priest some frozen steaks and hamburger when they processed beef. A couple of families keep our pastor well supplied in farm-raised eggs and cream for his coffee (I know, bad for the arteries!)
    Around Christmas the sweets and goodies actually become kind of a problem if the priest is trying to eat healthy; quite a few of them get quietly re-gifted. Summer is better, when the gardeners share produce.
    It is kind of bad that the Church doesn’t take care of retired priests better; so it is probably good advice for them to think about a retirement nest egg.

  9. How common or frequent is it to get the the perks you describe? Because to me it sounds like those priests you know lucked out by knowing generous people or being sent to well-to-do parishes, etc. Catholics aren’t exactly generous with the collection plate so I’d be surprised if people are any more generous treating their priests in most parts of the country. Why else would the appeals for priests’ retirement funds be so frequent and urgent?

  10. Oregon Catholic says:

    Sounds like you’re regretting you dropped out of the seminary.

  11. Pancho,
    In MY area of the country-somewhere in the Midwest, it’s more common here than you’s think. My friend in the rural area has a small parish, but prefers it that way. In my view, PART the retirement problem is that the Church, in the past has been really bad at managing money. This was because the Church had a “captive” audience that would give until it hurt because they were afraid not to. After Vatican 2 all that changed and money became harder to raise, add in the various scandal and you get the picture. Lower collection amounts are the laities way of expressing disatisfaction with whatever policies they disapprove of.

  12. Uh, NOOO. I don’t regret dropping out at all. I don’t know where you’d get that idea. I am happily married and my wife and I have a nice income. My real point is that many members of the clergy make bad financial decisions because they don’t really have to worry about money. You know-O.P.M.
    My friend with the 3 vehicles once ran a lottery to get his one of his former parishes out of a million $ debt. He told me that 6 weeks out it looked like a bust, BUT somehow in the end it worked and he raised most of the money he needed. When I asked him what would’ve happened if it had failed, he said” Oh not much. They’d have refunded the money and transferred me to some out of the way rural parish.”
    That’s how things get taken care of financially in the Church -quietly and out of sight.

  13. Do priests actually get a salary? I never knew that. This discussion has been enlightening to me.

  14. Deacon Norb says:

    Manny:

    There are two things to consider here:

    –Order priests (Franciscans, Benedictines, Jesuits — particularly those who live in a community house/monastery/friary) generally do not get salaries as such because one of their vows on entering that order is a vow of poverty. Most of their everyday needs are provided.

    –Secular priests (those who are under a Bishop, incardinated into a diocese and serve a local parish of lay folk) have not taken a vow of poverty. They do get salaries as such. As a rule (at least since the Council of Trent) their remuneration should be consistent and equal throughout a local diocese regardless of assignment. The nominal salary of a pastor of a small rural parish should be equal to the salary of a pastor of a larger one. That way there is no “bidding-war” about assignments (very much a concern in England during the Black Death Plague of the mid 1300′s).

    NOW: Some dioceses have a seniority step increase, some do not. Some dioceses allow Monsignors a step-increase, some do not. As has been mentioned, housing allowances, car and health insurance allowances and even retirement plans vary widely. They are, however, consistent WITHIN dioceses.

    ONE LAST POINT: Since Secular priests do not take a vow of “poverty” as Order priests do, they can privately own both personal and real property. Yes: I have known priests who have owned their own airplanes and are private pilots; I have known priests who own their own “get-away” condos; I even knew one who had a wine-cellar which would have rivaled anything in Napa or Sonoma. Most priests do not. My current pastor very quietly mentioned to me once that ANY cash he receives outside of his salary automatically goes to folks in his parish who are facing hard times.

  15. Thank you kindly. I never knew. So how come they don’t pay deacons then?

  16. Are bishops better paid than priests? They probably get a lot better “perks”. I mean, they have very nice offices, they are usually driven about, they live in very nice mansions, they certainly have people who do their food, take care of their clothes. Is this right? if yes, why and if not why?

  17. George Mason says:

    Well take what you say with a grain of salt since you don’t even have a name!

  18. George Mason says:

    This posting is misleading in many ways.
    Some deacons are paid. It depends on the parish to which they are assigned. If the deacon works at the parish more than a few hours on the weekend, it is likely the pastor will give him some monetary remuneration. For example, in a parish of the Archdiocese of New York where I once lived, one deacon worked in the office 5 days a week (9-5) and helped at one Mass on Sunday. He received a salary and benefits. Another deacon of the parish was able to get a job as chaplain at a nearby hospital. He was not around the parish too often, except one Mass on Sunday.
    Remember, most deacons already have secular jobs and so receive a salary. Priests are forbidden to have secular jobs.
    There are also many pastors who show appreciation to their deacons with gifts at certain times. So, there are “perks.” Some priests I know let the deacon keep gifts given for baptisms.

    Finally, remember that if you want to force all deacons to quit their day jobs and receive a church salary, we all need to make sure we are contributing more than a few dollars to the basket on Sunday.

  19. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    George…

    Priests are not “forbidden” to have secular jobs. The City of New York employs at least one (that I’m aware of) as a prison chaplain. It’s essentially a full-time job. He earns a salary as a diocesan priest, and a second salary (and pension) from the city as a civil employee. He says Mass on weekends at the parish where he is in residence, and helps out periodically with other sacraments. But most of his work is outside the parochial life. The same is true, I imagine, of priests who teach at universities.

    Dcn. G.

  20. George Mason says:

    Bishops are “usually driven about” for insurance reasons, because if they were involved in a fender bender, the other party’s lawyer may try to cash in by suing the diocese.
    Not all bishops live in “mansions.” The Archbishop of New York lives in a stately home by todays standards. But, notice that is is behind the cathedral. It is a very functional building where he can host various VIPs.
    Since they live with other priests, it makes sense to hire someone to cook and clean. Not only does it provide someone with a job and medical insurance, it frees the bishop and other priests up for prater, study, or meetings.

  21. George Mason says:

    Dcn. Greg,
    You are right according to the law that a “prison chaplain” is a “secular” job. I should have explained myself better that by “secular” I meant unconnected with religion. A priest cannot take a job as a chef, news anchor, or accountant, etc. I believe a deacon can have these jobs.

    Neither the parish nor the diocese pays the priest if he receives a full time salary from the “secular” chaplain job or from university work. I know this for a fact because a priest friend is an army chaplain. He is not assigned to a parish, of course, and is not paid by the diocese because the army pays quite a bit more than the diocese could and gives him benefits and a pension all depending on his army rank. Of course, he does not do it for the money, but to be with our soldiers who need the mass and sacraments. Another priest I know was teaching at a Catholic University. He received the university salary, and nothing from the diocese. Again, the salary was more than the diocese could pay.

    Basically, the diocese or parish (I make the distinction because most priests are paid by the parish they are assigned to; the diocese only pays in special cases) does not pay a salary if payment comes from another source.

  22. What about the priests who do not get the freebies and perks – no car allowance, no housing allowance, no phone allowance, a salary less than the recommended scale provided by the ecclesiastical office, and – yes, the parish has the money to pay…?

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