What Priests/Pastors “Earn”

What Priests/Pastors “Earn” November 2, 2013


How do you think a pastor’s salary should be determined?

The Vatican on Wednesday indefinitely suspended a German cleric dubbed the “bling bishop,” whose alleged luxury lifestyle runs counter to the message of modesty that Pope Francis aims to impart in the Catholic Church.

“The Holy See deems it appropriate to authorize a period of leave from the diocese for Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst,” the Vatican said in a statement. “A situation has been created in which the bishop can no longer exercise his episcopal duties.”

It did not specify how long the bishop would have to stay away but stated that this would depend on an analysis of the finances of his diocese in Limburg, in western Germany, and the responsibilities for its high costs.

The Central Committee of German Catholics, which brings together all the Catholic lay associations in the country, said it was satisfied with the decision to suspend the bishop.

“Pope Francis’ decision offers a chance at a new beginning in the diocese of Limburg, where the situation has become heavy in recent weeks both for believers there and for the church in Germany as a whole,” Alois Glueck, the organization’s president, said.

The bishop flew to Rome last week on the low-cost airline Ryanair to explain himself to Francis, following accusations that he had bought an expensive ticket to travel to India and squandered money. His private quarters in a new diocesan building are reported to have cost some $3.9 million and included a 678-square-foot dining room and a $20,600 bathtub — using the revenue from a religious tax in Germany.

The reports have caused a scandal in Germany and sparked calls for greater transparency in Catholic Church finances, a reform aim of the new pope, who has called for a “poor church for the poor.”

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  • Richie

    Personally, I think that it fits very well biblically for every local church to be self-supporting, self-propagating, and self-governing – that would then include decisions about financial support for pastors as necessary and in accordance with local conditions. But, then, I speak from the background of 40 years as a leader in the house-church movement and I’m not sure how that would go with mainline denominations, etc.

  • David Moore

    My friend Roger has come up with a quadrant of criteria which advances the discussion in a better direction. Those four areas are: size of family, ministry experience/background, ministry being hired for, and locale of ministry.

  • mark

    I have two close family members–one a priest and one who taught at a Catholic HS in Germany–who have extensive familiarity with the situation of the Church in Europe, so perhaps I can offer a useful view on this issue.

    First with regard to the “religious tax” in Germany:

    His private quarters in a new diocesan building are reported to have cost some $3.9 million and included a 678-square-foot dining room and a $20,600 bathtub — using the revenue from a religious tax in Germany.

    It should be understood that only registered members of the denominations in question pay the tax, not the general public, so in this case only registered Catholics paid for the “bling bishop’s” excesses. Obviously, that should leave those Catholics just as unhappy as if they had dropped the money in a collection basket in church on Sunday.

    That said, my relatives report that Europeans in general and Catholic clerics in particular simply have no understanding–no clue at all–of the American concept of basically private, voluntary support for the Church. They simply don’t get it at all, it’s totally foreign to them, part of their worldview, and they don’t get that the American way would give the Church more moral authority. They still don’t understand how the centuries of Church/State entanglement have contributed so mightily to the forces of secularization. As Americans, my relatives are constantly flummoxed at their inability to break through to their European friends.

    OTOH, I came away with a slightly different take on all this. Here in America we have an elite “Catholic” university run by the Jesuits called Georgetown. Several of its branches, including its Law School, are certainly to be numbered among elite entities of higher education. Recently, while the whole “bling bishop” thing was going on, there were some articles that, to Catholics like me, reflected poorly on Georgetown’s Law School. Here’s a link to one such article: CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY TO TEACH STUDENTS HOW TO PROMOTE, PROTECT OBAMACARE-COVERED ABORTIONS (all caps in original).

    Now Francis happens to be a Jesuit (sorry if you knew that already). He is, I suppose, garnering a fair amount of favorable publicity for getting involved in a very hands on way in the affair of the “bling bishop.” As a Catholic I certainly applaud that involvement. OTOH, I’m increasingly uncomfortable. Here’s why.

    I decided when I heard about Georgetown to hold my breath until such time as Francis set his brother Jesuits straight on what was and what was not proper for a Catholic, or Jesuit, university in terms of course material regarding support and promotion of abortion. I had assumed that I’d be able to exhale pretty soon, as Francis would surely act quickly in a spirit of fraternal correction. Silly me, eh?

  • Steve

    What would you say to a person who sees Acts chapter 15 as showing a church that tries to sort out issues locally first, but can also meet together for a council that will send out a binding decision to those local churches?

  • josenmiami

    one thing I have to like about episcopally structured churches like Catholicism is that there is a measure of accountability. In most neo-pentecostal and mega-churches there seems to be little if no moral and financial accountability at all.

  • scotmcknight

    A bit simplistic at least enough to respond: RCC is no more or less monitored than your ordinary megachurch. Leaders can create seals between themselves and laity/people, whether in RCC or megachurches, and those seals can lead to “protection” from accountability.

  • Marshall

    One problem there as I read it, the bishop (was he only a bishop?) was spending tax money. If the pastor owns his own church and runs it like a business then his financial accountability is to his customers, who can vote with their feet any time they like. Voluntary association seems like the best arrangement to me.

    As to moral accountability, we all need it, and it’s where you find it. Transparency is also good.

  • How to set a pastor’s salary: Pick ten people at random in the church. (Make exceptions for the unemployed, retired, and rich.) Determine their salaries. Average ’em.

    If it seems too little to live on, good: Now you can better sympathize with the poor. If it seems too much to live on, good: Now you can better demonstrate how to be charitable.

  • Richie

    I think I agree with that generally – and biblically – so long as it is a free association of churches in which a church can opt out if it disagrees with the biblical accuracy or applicability of the binding decision. Though Acts 15 demonstrates what you speak of, the application of that today is more difficult in terms of the “binding decision” being biblically accurate. Of course in a free society a church, or members of a church, can simply opt out and go their own way anyway. And, I suppose extremely unreasonable decisions over the payment of pastors could, perhaps, be reason enough for doing this.

  • Steve

    Hmmm… there seems to be a tension between a decision being binding, and also one a person can opt out of if he disagree with it.

    The Jerusalem councils letter began with, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us…”. In other words, it claimed to be speaking for the Holy Spirit. That is an incredible claim. If one didn’t believe they indeed did speak with God’s authority, the expression of that level of hubris alone would be enough to break fellowship with them.

    Are there any Biblical examples showing the validity of people disagreeing with the decision of the Jerusalem Council and going their own way?

    There is a brief mention in Rev 2:14, which mentions a local Church disobeying the Council’s rules on eating foods sacrificed to idols. But they are spoke of in a negative light.