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Our priests are motivated by what they can give, not what they get

On June 8 we celebrated the funeral of a good and faithful priest, 90-year old Msgr. William James, who had given his life in service to God and the people of the Church. Listening to people at the funeral speak highly of him, I realized he had freely given his life as a gift to us all. But it made me think of conversations some people have had with me in which they ask how much priests are paid, almost implying that men are attracted to the priesthood because of the salary.

We pay our priests enough for them to meet their needs, but priests do not dedicate themselves to priestly ministry because of the salary. They do not become priests because of what they get; instead, they are motivated by what they can give, namely, themselves. On several occasions I have explained to newly-ordained priests about the salary they will receive. I find it very encouraging that they are ordained but have never asked what their salary will be. This shows that their heart is in their ministry, not the money.

In the interest of transparency, however, perhaps it is good to explain how much a priest gets paid. The answer depends upon the diocese the priest serves in and whether the priest belongs to a religious order or is a diocesan priest.

In the Archdiocese of Mobile an active archdiocesan priest receives the following benefits furnished by the place where he serves:

  • Room and Board
  • Health Insurance
  • The Annual Archdiocesan Three Day Retreat
  • The Annual Archdiocesan Two Day Continuing Education

In addition, the priest receives a salary of $1,400 a month ($16,800 a year). This is to help the priest pay for his car, car insurance, other car expenses, taxes, clothes, personal items, deductibles for health care, prescription medicine, donations to charity, vacation, etc.

A priest is also allowed to keep one Mass stipend a day (usually $5-10) for the Mass he celebrates. Some priests do this and others do not.

Finally, a priest receives $475 monthly to help pay for clerical garb, books, subscriptions, memberships in professional organizations and other expenses connected with his service as a priest.

A retired archdiocesan priest receives a slightly larger monthly stipend in order to make sure he is cared for in a proper fashion during retirement.

A parish priest who belongs to a religious order (the Edmundites, Franciscans, Heralds of the Good News, Josephites, Missionaries of St. Paul, Resurrectionists, Trinitarians, Vincentians) receives the monthly stipend determined by his order. This is because priests who belong to religious orders take the promise of poverty and archdiocesan priests do not. Religious order priests do not own anything in their names. The order is responsible for the needs of the priests. Archdiocesan priests may own things (such as a car) and are responsible for paying for what they own.

Each archdiocesan priest receives the same salary. This is rare among American dioceses. In many dioceses priests are paid according to the number of years they are ordained or the ministry they fulfill. In our archdiocese, however, each priest is treated the same. The newly-ordained priest receives the same salary as the archbishop. This is certainly not how the world operates. It would be unworkable in the business world for every employee to receive the same salary. The world teaches us that our importance is based upon the salary we make. The more we make, the more important we are to the company. It is different with the priests of the Archdiocese of Mobile. We each share the equal dignity of being called by God to save souls. We receive the same recompense. This is but one more way in which, although the Church may be perceived by many people as operating as a business, it is in reality very different from any business.

One final note may be helpful. A study conducted several years ago showed that the priests of the Province of Mobile (the dioceses in Alabama and Mississippi) were among the lowest paid priests in the US. I discussed this with some of the priests and asked if the priests’ salaries should be increased. The priests did not encourage me to do so. One priest told me: “We’re not in this for the money.”

Indeed, our priests are not in this for the money. These men are well-educated, talented and competent. They could obtain much higher salaries in the business world. Instead they have given their lives as a gift in order to serve God and us. God bless them all.

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