The Worker is Worth his Wages. And Perhaps Retirement, Too – UPDATED

“Oh, God, no….”

When I saw the title of this piece by Father Dwight, those were my groaning sentiments. I’ve been trying to focus on a book project all week, and as soon as I saw it, I knew…there goes another day where I won’t get it done.

This is one of those crappy issues I hate to comment on, because it’s ridiculous and small, and also because in eight years of blogging I have made a point of not speaking of other bloggers/new media folk unless I could do so positively. I’m not into intra-blog smackdowns because I think people are entitled to their work, and their opinions, and besides, no one has appointed me to be a new-media scold-unto-others.

My fear is that giving this subject exposure will ultimately be destructive to the very good momentum the church is gathering within new media, and the excellent work being done by so many for the New Evangelization. But if people stop donating to helpful Catholic sites because they’ve suddenly taken umbrage at the idea — the Christ-quoted idea — that the worker is worthy of his wages (Luke 10-7), we will see a collapse of sound Catholic media, and that is a loss the world cannot afford. Father Paul Scalia (no relation) says it well, here: fighting for the faith can destroy charity.

So, all that said, this video seems intemperate and uncharitable to me, and while I am uncomfortable speculating about motivations the whole thing feels flinty and small-spirited. The first half of it is the usual rant against the bishops (apparently, even the “well-thought of, orthodox and conservative” ones are no good and retaliate when kicked, go figure), and the second sneers at all the professional Catholics getting rich with filthy lucre off the church.

Really? Even the “good” bishops are no good if they don’t fall in line with the Church Militant as embodied in this one operation? I can’t help noting the irony of Voris kicking back in retaliation at someone kicking back in retaliation at his kicking! As though that’s not human nature, and the church isn’t full of humans.

Really? We’re going to huff and puff because professional, trained media people — lay men and women using their skills and (quite often) their vast expertise to spread the gospel, teach the truth of Catholicism, and be visible, credible, approachable faces and voices of the Catholic Church — are being paid enough to support their families?

Again, Really?

Gasp! EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo, a husband and father with little kids, makes $100,000 a year! So? He’s using his skills in the Catholic market, because he loves the church, when he could likely earn a great deal more than that in secular media, and this is a scandal?

Gasp! Radio Host Al Kresta makes $115,000 a year! So? Al Kresta is a writer and a media professional, and a guy in a wheelchair who needs an assistant to help him travel and meet up with interesting Catholics in interesting venues for the edification (and entertainment) of the listening faithful. We’re going to begrudge him a living when his health may not hold out?

Gasp! Some of these people actually have retirement packages! Oh, stop the world, it’s too much! I’m plotzing! Retirement packages! Why that’s just Un-American and Un-Godly! What a freaking scandal! Oh, wait — even priests and religious get to retire.

Gasp! Jimmy Akin, who knows more about most things biblical and liturgical than most of us ever will, makes “over $100,000!” That’s it! I’m going to die! I’m going to have a heart-attack and die right now, from this shock! Obviously, none of these people are worth this much money! Why, Catholics who work in media, and who put 40-60 hours a week of their life into that work ought to be barely subsisting! They should be wearing rags, and using food stamps and that would make their work most edifying and pleasing to the Lord!

This notion that “good” Catholics who want to work for the sake of the church must put their stuff out for free (or earn near-peanuts) else stand accused of “getting rich” off the church is one that can only be detrimental to the growth of sound Catholic media. First of all, no one gets rich by working for the church. Karl Keating “pulls down a cool quarter-million”? Well, I admit, that sounds like pretty good sugar to me, but he’s a really credible voice of Catholic education, is he not? What is that credibility worth? What is his education, experience and commitment worth? How much of that comes from book royalties and speaking fees? What are his expenses? What sort of people does he have to meet-and-greet and entertain in order to keep the ship afloat? And what is it all worth to you, and to me? I am grateful for these people, so I think they’re worth a lot.

Let’s be realistic: high-quality Catholic media requires high-quality staff to put out a high-quality product that will attract people to the Church and its teachings. That takes money, because when talented folk go to school or become trained in media, and they decide that they want to work for the church, they bring both their expertise and their expenses into the equation. They need to be able to pay off student loans. They need to be able to feed, clothe, educate and shelter their families (and yes, sock a little away, if possible, for the time when they can no longer work); they need to be able to buy presentable clothing because if they’re even moderately successful, they’re going to be meeting people and networking for the ultimate good of the church. If they’re meeting people outside the church, they need to look presentable — not glamorous, but professional — not everyone can get away with being a ragamuffin, like me. They need to be able to support their local parishes, too. I don’t know about other big-city markets, but I can tell you that in New York, or Atlanta, a family of four making $100,000 is not “living large”, especially if has kids who want to go to college. People who can afford to go on “prayer cruises” probably actually do realize that.

Earlier this year I participated in a panel of bloggers discussing digital media, and at one point someone asked about competition among bloggers. I can’t remember my whole response, but I know I repeated my opinion that in Catholic New Media the notion of “competition” seemed nebulous to me — that when something good happens in one area of Catholic New Media, it is a boon to everyone — “a rising tide lifts all boats” — because it enlarges the way in which the Holy Spirit can move and work. There should be no denigration of the success of others, and certainly there should never be a sense of competition about who in new media is holier, or more faithful, or more sincere, or even more humble. The truth is we cannot gauge one another’s humility, and we can’t stand around like Pharisees thanking God that we’re not like that other blogger who is just not as pure as we’d like to believe we are, ourselves. I do not for a moment doubt Michael Voris’ sincere love of the faith and his desire to serve it. His methods may not be mine, but they needn’t be. We’re all one body, different parts.

Speaking of Michael Voris who, like the people his is criticizing, makes his living from the donations of the faithful: he makes a point of announcing that his salary is $40,000 a year. I have no idea if he makes more from speaking fees, marketing, cruise ship appearances, or whatever, and I’m really not interested. For an unmarried man, living in the American Midwest, $40,000 seems like a solidly middle-class salary, and most folk in Catholic New Media would be happy to make as much. In the same way $100,000 for a family in a larger market seems like middle-class money, too. And why in heaven’s name wouldn’t any entity that can offer 401k’s to their staff not do so, for the sake of justice? I would hope that were Church Militant to grow to the point where they could afford it, they’d do the same for their folk.

Here’s Saint Paul, on the subject:

Don’t we have the right to eat and drink? Don’t we have the right to be accompanied by a Christian wife like the other apostles, the Lord’s brothers, and Cephas? Or do Barnabas and I alone have no right to refrain from working? Who ever goes to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its fruit? Or who shepherds a flock and does not drink the milk from the flock? Am I saying this from a human perspective? Doesn’t the law also say the same thing? For it is written in the law of Moses, Do not muzzle an ox while it treads out grain. Is God really concerned with oxen? Or isn’t He really saying it for us? Yes, this is written for us, because he who plows ought to plow in hope, and he who threshes should do so in hope of sharing the crop. If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it too much if we reap material benefits from you? If others have this right to receive benefits from you, don’t we even more?

However, we have not made use of this right; instead we endure everything so that we will not hinder the gospel of Christ. Don’t you know that those who perform the temple services eat the food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the offerings of the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should earn their living by the gospel. – 1 Corinthians 9:4-14

So, what’s the problem?

I’m not sure there is a problem, here, except for the one that could develop if the people (like you and me) who support and encourage Catholic new media because they see how urgently it needs to be present within a culture gone increasingly mad, begin to feel that they’re being taken for a ride by those “rich fat cats” at ETWN, and Catholic Answers and Relevant Radio, who apparently have no right to earn their livings while bringing faith-related issues, information and entertainment to a world starving for it.

Mr. Voris has released a new video, clarifying his meaning. I think about it outloud, here

Thomas Merton is a Time Lord!
ISIS takes more Christian hostages; seals its doomed fate
Why Dolan, and Francis, and Benedict are Right
“Gradualism is Another Word for License.” No, It’s Not.
About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Pete

    Where can a Catholic apologist make more than the $120,000 or so he makes at CA? The guy sending you $5 a week from his $48,000 annual salary may expect you and Jimmy to be joyously and trustingly scrapping by just as he and his wife and 5 kids are.
    You don’t think a bishop could make life very difficult for CA is he was motivated to do so?
    Voris has provoked many to think about our Church is a realistic way. We are not in a new springtime. We are in ruins. Too many do not admit this and so do nothing to correct it…if that only means praying for God’s mercy. CA does a great deal of good work, no doubt but Voris has a role to play in this too. And I, for one commend him for is ‘in your face’ approach. That’s what works on some of us less cultured types.

  • Pete

    Ill-defined? Watch a week or two of Vortex programs to see the definition take shape. We are in ruins and need to admit this first or else we won’t be willing to seek out remedies.

  • Pete

    I don’t think you can exaggerate the crisis in the Church. Perhaps it is just much worse than you know or are willing to admit.

  • Augustine

    You speak of average salaries of a sector, I speak of first-hand knowledge of salary for a position: software engineers with an MS fresh out of school are hired for just shy of $100,000 at my company and at other IT companies whose names are household names.

    Again, I have no quibbles with someone making a six-figure salary or much more than me. Pitching one’s salary against national averages and whatnot is a sleazy attempt at using envy to manipulate others to side with a position. It’s dishonest, low and uncharitable.

  • Augustine

    Methinks that you should stop watching the Vortex and volunteer at your parish to make a difference. Armchair or computer screen prophet is very comfortable, but also false.

  • Augustine

    Or perhaps it’s much better than how Voris paints the ills of Church to be.

  • Augustine

    I think that saying that without indisputable evidence is calumny, a mortal sin. It is also a sin to gloat at someone committing a mortal sin.

  • alwr

    Exactly, if you click on anything at the CA site right now, a pop up shows up asking for donations because it is financial “emergency” and they need donations to continue. As someone whose job was cut from a Catholic school, where I was barely paid a living wage in the first place, leaving me underemployed for four years now and obliterating any chance that my husband and I can have children of our own–I have a hard time sympathizing or considering their financial problem an emergency if they are paying such generous salaries as a NON-PROFIT.

  • JoAnna Wahlund

    Do you realize the cost of living in CA, especially the San Diego area? It’s probably the equivalent of $48,000/year elsewhere.

  • JoAnna Wahlund

    Aaaaaaaaaaaand have you factored California’s cost of living in to your equations, especially housing prices in/around the non-crime-ridden areas of San Diego?

  • A J MacDonald Jr

    I write the truth and preach the gospel for free. Kresta & Catholic Answers are Neocon shills. Period. That means “not following Christ & the Gospel. Period.

  • MeanLizzie

    What a staggeringly uncharitable thing to say about your fellow Catholics — to accuse them of not following Christ and the Gospel! Who gave you authority to make such a judgement?

  • oregon catholic

    Maybe they should consider moving to a more frugal location.
    My first question after I read Mr. Keating’s response about competitive salaries is whatever happened to the notion of ministry and service? If you want to make a competitive salary why don’t you move to the for-profit market where you actually have to compete for that salary?

    As someone who works for a non-profit myself that knows how many sacrificial donations and volunteer hours keep us afloat, if I donate to a non-profit I expect the salaries to reflect that status and I expect my money to be used well for the ministry, not to give fat paychecks.

  • oregon catholic

    You do realize don’t you that bloggers on Patheos make money by the hits they generate? That in itself is a temptation to stir the pot and focus on highly charged and polarizing topics.

  • MeanLizzie

    Wow. That’s not only cynical but it immediately paints everything everyone writes here at Patheos (and all the writers) as suspect and unworthy of being taken in good faith. Wow. You surprise me.

  • oregon catholic

    It translates to income when you make money from hits on the website. It’s a bit of a moral conundrum for the bloggers as they walk the fine line between hosting a discussion and blowing up their combox with angry and polarized commenters, which in turn drives up the hits and the income. I think Deacon Greg had the right idea when he shut off his comments. I’ll bet he lost some income but sleeps a whole lot more peacefully at night.

  • MeanLizzie

    Yeah, we’re all getting rich from blogging; we’re all rolling in luxury thanks to our modest stipends. In fact, since closing his comments — which he did after the Corapi debacle, during which he began to feel like the comboxes were becoming occasions of sin for too many, including himself — his readership has tripled. I don’t know any writer at Patheos who deliberately stirs water in order to gain page views. We write about what interests us, or speaks to us, or stirs our passions, and sometimes that means a lot of combox action and page views and sometimes it means very little. Interestingly posts on prayer? We write a lot of them, and they don’t get much traffic. If all we were doing was flogging page views, we wouldn’t spend so much time writing on the non-controversial, unglamorous stuff. Believe what you want. You will anyway.

  • oregon catholic

    You don’t see the potential moral slippery slope in how Patheos bloggers make money do you? Some bloggers write very spiritually and thoughtfully and get very few comments. Others (not you) take on one controversial or polarizing topic after the other, routinely call out others for criticism, and stir the pot within their own comboxes.

  • oregon catholic

    “during which he began to feel like the comboxes were becoming occasions of sin for too many, including himself”

    Yes, my point exactly.

    I’m glad to know his readership has tripled – he did the right thing imo. Any lessons to be learned here?

  • MeanLizzie

    No. I actually enjoy my comboxes (for the most part) and enjoy my regular readers, who are very civil, thoughtful people. Are you implying that I should close my comboxes in hopes of raising my traffic? Heavens…that would be mercenary of me, wouldn’t it? If the combox bothers you, then you should vacate it.

  • MeanLizzie

    If you understood how incredibly modest the compensation for bloggers was, you wouldn’t ask. Believe me when I tell you, no one is getting rich blogging. But again, as I said…believe what you want. I’m done. I’ve spent hours in these comboxes and I’m done.