When I was a boy, and the wooly mammoth still roamed, there were two kinds of pastors in the Catholic Church. There were irremovable pastors who could only be removed by the pope and there were removable pastors who could only be removed by the pope. If you were a removable pastor you could be removed by the bishop, but you had the right of appeal to Rome and the process took so much time and effort on the part of the bishop, why bother? In effect a pastor had tenure and was expected to leave a parish, carried out feet first. (Dead, for those of you who are humor impaired.)
All this changed one day in Chicago in, I believe, 1972. Those were the heady days of the Age of Aquarius, the post-conciliar era when the changes wrought by the Second Vatican council were going to make everything perfect. The young priests of Chicago realized that the liturgical changes that would be needed to introduce this Golden Age would never happen as long as the old curmudgeon pastors occupied the “plum” parishes.
So, at a meeting of the Priest’s Senate of the Archdiocese of Chicago, the clergy assembled asked Cardinal John Cody to petition Rome for permission to limit the terms of pastors to two terms of six years each. It is said that Cardinal Cody responded, “If that’s your wish, my sons, (he talked that way sometimes) I will petition the Holy Father.” It is also said that his eminence left the hall smiling. He realized that if the pastors lost tenure, they would lose any control over the bishop of a diocese. The old “barons,” as we called them, had a great deal of influence over the bishop. They could disagree with him publicly, and worse they could withhold cooperation in fund raising, and could not be removed for either. A pastor with tenure could only be removed for insanity, immorality, heresy, or an interesting combination of the three and these had to be proved by a canonical trial! If the bishop needed funds, he had to schmooze his pastors. They knew where the money was and how to get it.
All this seems rather cynical, but don’t kid yourself. Religion doesn’t come cheap. There are buildings to maintain, staffs to be paid, schools, charities soup kitchens, orphanages retirement homes, hospitals, etc. etc., etc. to be maintained. And tuck -pointing. Tuck-pointing! The very word sends a chill down the spine of a pastor. Just try tuckpointing a five-story brick building. The cost can run into the high hundreds of thousands if you’re lucky! So, if you want to take the high road and do not want to mix filthy lucre with religion you might as well throw out your Bible. From the Old Testament through the New, there is an honest presentation of the relationship between worship and money, so get off your high horse.
Where was I? Oh yes… pastors. The priests of Chicago threw away their right to tenure and in those exhilarating times after the council, as Chicago went so went the nation. As the nation went, so went the world. Pastors in most places don’t have limited terms of pastorate, but they do have an obligatory retirement. The results of that fateful meeting in 1972 have been wide ranging.
Here is one result. There is something called the cathedraticum. (Cathedra meaning the bishop’s chair which is kept in the cathedral.) The cathedraticum is the money owed the bishop from the Sunday collection. I have no idea what the cathedraticum was in my youth. I have heard that was about 3 percent of the parish revenues, but this cannot be accurate. The cathedraticum in this country seems to have been around 10 percent of a pastor’s income as far as I can tell and is currently 10 percent of the regular parish collections. The whole thing is very confusing. In times past, the collections, funeral stipends and pew rentals seem to have been considered the pastors personal property and from these he owed the bishop a substantial amount. From the rest he maintained the parish and the school, paying the salaries of priests nuns and lay people who maintained the parish. All those income sources were removed from the pastor in the latter half of the twentieth century and the priest was given a salary.
After working for the “company” for 45 years the salary paid me by the parish is around $30,000 after taxes. Yes, I pay taxes. Lots of them. In addition to the salary we have automobile insurance, health insurance until we qualify for Medicare, and housing. That housing is above the store, so in effect we are also night watchmen. In the past priests did not retire. As I have said, it was expected that they died in their rectories. That was the retirement plan. Now it is expected that we must accept retirement the year we turn 70 and we receive the generous pension of $1,200 a month, provided we do not live in a rectory. If we live in rectory or other church facility, I believe that our pension goes down to $600 a month.
At the moment, to the best of my knowledge, the official cathedraticum is still about 10 percent, but to that is added 6% for the Priests’ retirement fund, formerly unnecessary, insurance assessments and a 7% expectation for the annual diocesan fundraising campaign. To this is added the special collections for various diocesan charities. This all seems rather dry and unreligious. But it has a far more important significance. Financial control has effectively been removed from the pastors. It is in the hands of an ever-growing professional bureaucracy that uses a business model.
PS. I am not poor. I have other sources of income than my parish salary. Diocesan priests don’t take a vow of poverty. I have other reasons for discussing finances which I hope will become clear in future essays.