"Pay Day" and the Secular Clergy


Greetings all. I wasn’t sure where else to post my question, which I think has to do with the administration of a diocese.

I am a lawyer practicing in the Pacific Northwest. Recently I’ve been studying and reflecting on the legal doctrines and rationale (erroneous, I believe) which some courts have used to hold many dioceses vicariously liable for priestly sexual abuse.

Does anyone know if a diocesan priest receives “wages” for his “services”? In other words, how is the priest supported by the diocese?

Also, how would you describe—in theological terms or otherwise—the relationship between a priest and his ordinary, or the diocese? I certainly would not call it an employer-employee relationship, for as we know the Church is not a business out to make a profit (the sin of simony).



I think it would qualify as an employer-employee relationship. My understanding is the priest is under the authority of the diocese. The Diocese can, at their discretion, fire or transfer a priest, can’t they? The profit motive is irrelevant, I believe. Since the Diocese has authority to hire/fire priests, they are viewed the same way as managers and directors in for profit companies; potentially responsible for civil penalties.

The diocese may not pay the priest, but that might not be relevant. Plus, I am sure that a lawyer could argue that the local congregation is ultimately responsible, but that it is not the responsibility of the victim to sue all of them.
Sorry if I got the Catholic Church structure wrong.


Yes, secular priests “get paid”. In my diocese a priest’s compensation includes a base pay that is based on years of service and job description (Pastor, parochial vicar, pastoral administrator) dental & health insurance coverage, room & board and/or a housing allowance, mileage reimbursement and is usually part of the “operating expenses” of the parish he is attached to. If he works for the diocese in another capacity ( the tribunal, or one of the various offices, the Vicar General, Chancellor, local seminary or school, etc), they receive pay from that particular office also.


Of course the priest is in an employer-employee relationship. First of all, the local church has no say in what priest comes to their church or how long he may stay. Other Christian churches and other religious groups hire their own clergy by advertising the position and interviewing the candidates. Catholics don’t get to choose but the priest is hired for them and then they have to pay the bill. The Bishop holds the ultimate decisions of where a priest goes.
It should be clear to a lawyer that the Diocese is responsible for the child abuse fiasco because even after complaints from the local churches, the bishops have not removed the abusers from the parishes, or worse, has moved the abuser to another parish without warning of the danger. They have colluded with other bishops by sending priests to other states or countries to avoid prosecution. Even though the wages are paid by the parish, the bishop is the one at whose pleasure the priest is serving.
Most priest are good, honest, hardworking and innocent of the abuse scandal. However, most of the bishops in the US and I’m sure other parts of the world, have knowingly allowed criminal priests to continue to abuse children and have brought a huge stain on the church. I think the Pope will be relieving a lot of bishops of their positions as soon as he finds out how guilty they actually are. Yes, Bishops and priests should be held to a higher standard.


A diocesan priest takes a vow of obedience to his bishop. He is certainly an employee of the diocese and receives a salary.


I’m going to address some things you stated above:

  1. the Parish technically does not pay the priest. The Diocese does. The Diocese receives money from the parishes, but it’s not even. In a way, rich parishes pay all or part of the salary of the poor parishes or missions. There are some parishes that don’t have the money to pay their bills, let alone pay the priests. But the parish does pay for the rectory and “business” expenses of the priest.

  2. the average Catholic priest makes around $21,000 per year. The average Bishop makes around $25,000 per year. In Protestant communities, their ministers make a lot more; the more money/people in the congregation, the more money the minister makes. Some of the Bishops in the Episcopal church make over $200,000 per year.

  3. I’m not aware of any situation where priests were sent to other diocese. Typically, they were laicized and then some moved on their own, but to my knowledge, they didn’t move to other diocese. Some were moved to other parishes though.

  4. I don’t think MOST Bishops are guilty of doing anything. I think most priests/Bishops were stuck between a rock and a hard place due to the Seal of Confession. When someone goes to confession and confesses a sin, the priest can never reveal what was said. They have to pretend nothing was told to them, they can never discuss the confession even with the person who confessed. Once the confession is over, the priest must “forget” everything he heard. The priest hearing the confession cannot even acknowledge that the person went to confession.

So if a slick abuser were to confess to diocesan officials (Bishop, dean, etc) then their hands become tied. In order to get rid of the person, they would someone complain about them, because they would have to ignore everything they heard. It’s just like attorney-client privilege in a court of law. This is why priests were “transferred,” they were transferred as part of the regular transfers; that was the only way a Bishop could deal with the situation if the abuser confessed to him (unless someone complained).

Now, some people did complain, but at the time, Bishops didn’t know how to deal with the issue. They received some bad advise from some “liberal” psychiatrists, and didn’t know what to do. Some made some terrible decisions. While there may have been a few Bishops who were really guilty of immoral decisions, cover-up, etc; I think most who were caught up simply didn’t know what to do and were not talking about it.

Today, I think the Dioceses are better at avoid those situations regarding the Seal of Confession. I wouldn’t be surprise if today, Bishops and other diocese officials do not hear confessions from their priests. Priests confess to other priests, and I also wouldn’t be surprised if they often confess to a priests in another parish. I also know that Bishops confess to priests, and typically not to other Bishops.

Finally, the Church is encouraging the faithful to speak up instead of staying quiet; that way if there is a Seal of Confession issue, the complaint would allow the Bishop to act based on the merits of the accusation and investigation. Also, Bishops are all talking about how to deal with the situation, it’s out in the open. While before, Bishops were not talking to other Bishops; they were keeping it all quiet, thinking it doesn’t happen anywhere else. But if the Pope finds some who are truly guilty of wrong doings, they will be rightfully replaced.


In Australia, the Catholic Church was found by a Full Court of Appeal not to have a legal entity and thus could not be sued. It never became a corporation, unlike many other churches and was not in an employer- employee position with the priests under its direction. It exists only through a number of trusts.
Recently Archbishop Pell suggested he thought that the Church’s status should be changed to allow it to be sued. However, no-one has acted on this suggestion. We await any findings of the Royal Commission, however they cannot in law overrule a Court.
The American legal system is not a Common law jurisdiction, although many States run under a very similar system. So I do not know the Church’s status in the U.S.
However, I feel that some of the arguments used as the ratio decidendi for the decision on the employment status could well hold up in the States depending on the incorporated status of the administrating body.


That obviously varies by diocese. Here the diocese sets the salary and the parishes pay it.

  1. the average Catholic priest makes around $21,000 per year. The average Bishop makes around $25,000 per year. In Protestant communities, their ministers make a lot more; the more money/people in the congregation, the more money the minister makes. Some of the Bishops in the Episcopal church make over $200,000 per year.

In my diocese secular priests make about $26K per year. It’s more on paper because room & board is factored into the tax equation. Religious priests are paid at the rate negotiated between the diocese and their congregation/order. Generally that’s quite a bit less but that’s offset by the fact that they pay no tax due to their vow of poverty.

Now, some people did complain, but at the time, Bishops didn’t know how to deal with the issue. They received some bad advise from some “liberal” psychiatrists, and didn’t know what to do.

That pedophilia was curable was the belief at the time, I know because that’s what was taught to us in nursing school in the mid 70s. Believing that, dioceses/bishops paid good money to get treatment for offending priests and then were told the priests were cured. They had no reason to doubt the doctors so no precaution was taken when reassigning the priest. Today we know better. Hindsight is always 20/20.


Phemie makes very good points in the post above. In addition, back then local law enforcement officials did not view these matters as significant compared to drug dealers, prostitution, murder and the threat of communism. They often pushed these cases to the back-burner and thought of them as matters to be handled by parents and their local churches. I have read a number of police folks say this about things back then.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.