We Can’t Afford Married Priests?

Pascal Emmanuel Gobry admits to having confused thoughts about married priests here.

The topic is confusing. As soon as you come up with a good reason for married priests a good reason not to have married priests presents itself. There are many different aspects of this discussion.

Here’s one:

Con: “We can’t afford married priests! Do you know how much it would cost to support a married man and his family!”

Pro: “Surely the question is not whether we could afford married priests, but whether we should. But let’s stop and consider that we already pay for celibate priests. It varies from diocese to diocese and around the world the situation will vary hugely according to different cultural conditions. Let’s just consider the American scene.

Many Catholics have no idea in the world what a priest is paid. Many imagine that we all take a vow of poverty and that we live day by day on faith. Some think the bishop pays us. He doesn’t the parish pays according to guidelines issued by the diocese.

Most celibate priests in American dioceses do pretty well. Here’s a rough guide to what he gets: 1. A base annual stipend of about $30,000. 2. Social Security payments: $5,000 3. Retirement plan: $9,000 4. Health Insurance: $20,000.

OK. The celibate priest already costs about $65,000.

Added to this, the priest usually has a car, phone and personal computers provided. Then remember the parish provides housing, utilities and usually groceries. Most priests also have a parish credit card to use for “hospitality and sundry expenses.” Some diocese stipulate that the parish should also pay all health co-pays and complete dentistry costs. If the priest is in a large, wealthy parish his house may be in a posh part of town, his car may very well be not just a set of wheels, but a very nice car. For the most part no one will check up on the “expenses” he claims or the things he purchases on the credit card.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not implying that our priests are all living high off the hog and abusing money. Some do. From what I can tell most of my colleagues live modestly and do not claim all the benefits they might claim.  Canon law says we are to live in ‘apostolic simplicity’ according to the society in which we live. I think most Catholic priests do live fairly simply.

Considering all this and the fact that the priest has a job for life, a high level of  status and job satisfaction…he is pretty much his own boss and nobody is looking over his shoulder, I should think there are a good number of married men who would sign up tomorrow. Many families would be very happy to live under those conditions without paying any extra. That’s why I promise my parish that I do not take any more than any celibate diocesan priest is entitled to.

To live on those terms would not mean the priest is living extravagantly but he is well cared for.

There are other factors: in our own case, I have an extra income through my writing and speaking and Mrs Longenecker has started her own business. With the freedom to do some extra work on the side and a wife who works, most married men who want to be priests would be able to manage easily.

The real elephant in the room is one which Pascal Emmanuel doesn’t mention, and which I haven’t heard anyone else mention.

It’s (cue screams of shock and horror) Humanee Vitae. The question of whether a married man with a family can have the time to be a priest and whether the Catholic Church can afford it is altered tremendously when you remember that a Catholic priest who is a young fertile man with a young fertile wife will be obliged to be an example to his flock and live according to the teachings of the church. That means no artificial contraception. That will probably mean not just a professional wife with the standard suburban 2.5 children, but a happy brood of young Catholics.

Now that changes the picture no? Is the parish willing to support that kind of Catholic priest? Are they ready to build bigger rectories, pay for orthodontics, Catholic school and college? The big brood reduces father’s availability and the possibility that mother will go out to work to bring added income.

Are American Catholics are willing to accept such a challenge positively with faith and amazingly joyful generosity?

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker

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