My parish charges a fixed fee of $100 for baptisms. It is emphatically not just a “suggested donation.” It’s required. A parish employee was recently docked the $100 from paycheck since the “donation” hadn’t been made. Does this constitute simony, and if so, who is the best person to address the issue?
Code of Canon Law:
Can. 281 §1. Since clerics dedicate themselves to ecclesiastical ministry, they deserve remuneration which is consistent with their condition, taking into account the nature of their function and the conditions of places and times, and by which they can provide for the necessities of their life as well as for the equitable payment of those whose services they need.
Can. 848 The minister is to seek nothing for the administration of the sacraments beyond the offerings defined by competent authority, always taking care that the needy are not deprived of the assistance of the sacraments because of poverty.
Can. 1264 Unless the law has provided otherwise, it is for a meeting of the bishops of a province:
2/ to set a limit on the offerings on the occasion of the administration of sacraments and sacramentals.
The Church does not absolutely forbid the setting of a fee for the celebration of the sacraments. That is why dioceses have set Mass stipends and marriage fees. These fees are set by the Bishops of the province.
The reason for this is that both clergy and the parishes rely on the parishioners to be supported. Every expense that makes the parish run (electricity, water, heat, cooling, insurance, snow plowing, landscaping, repairs, etc) needs to be paid for by the people of the parish. If parishioners don’t financially support the parish then the parish won’t be there very long.
However there are two important stipulations on the fee. The first is that it cannot exceed what is set down by the province. The second is that it a violation of canon law and immoral to turn someone away who cannot afford the fee.
So as long as the $100 is not in excess of the limit determined by the province and the pastor is not turning away someone who cannot afford the fee, there is nothing inherently wrong about the situation. You can check with your diocese regarding the appropriate limit for baptismal offerings. And if the parish is giving the appearance of a quid pro quo arrangement between fees and sacraments you could express your concern to the local Bishop about that as well.