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Setting fair standards for parish wages


The priest’s housekeeper. The director of religious education. Both perform a vital function in a parish. How much should they be paid for doing their respective jobs?

When a committee charged with formulating personnel policy, including compensation, for church employees in the Oakland, Calif., diocese began researching what parishes in the diocese paid for similar jobs, they uncovered salary differentials of $30,000 for the same post.

They also discovered that one housekeeper was earning the equivalent of $70,000, compared to $10,000 to $15,000 for some directors of religious education, when annual pay was measured at an hourly rate per 40-hour week.

“We were shocked at the discrepancies between parishes. There was no consistency. Each pastor was paying what he wanted to pay,” said Kevin Staszkow, a member of the committee formed in 1999. Despite the existence of diocesan salary guidelines, which at that point were last updated in 1992, “few were following them,” said Staszkow, who directs religious education at Our Lady of Grace parish in Castro Valley, Calif.

The committee found some workers “grossly underpaid.” It wasn’t that poor parishes were underpaying their workers. In fact, a lot of wealthier parishes were hiring people with other incomes and writing them down as working 19 hours per week to avoid paying benefits, Staszkow said. “We knew we needed to start paying just wages across the diocese. The committee saw this as a justice issue.”

Devising a uniform personnel policy for an entire diocese with job descriptions, levels of responsibility, compensation and benefit packages looked like a daunting task and one that would require at least 18 months’ work. But then the committee found that the National Association of Church Personnel Administrators had been doing this type of work for years. The finding came when a committee member discovered a manual on parish pay put out by the association.

The Cincinnati-based organization serves human resource managers and personnel directors and dedicates itself to developing just personnel practices for all church employees. Since the Oakland committee had already set the paying of a just wage as its standard, “there was no need to reinvent the wheel,” Staszkow told NCR.

The National Association of Church Personnel Administrators believes the fairest and most equitable parish compensation practices occur where diocesan-wide pay guidelines exist for all ministries and staff levels. Such guidelines help parishes establish fair pay rates for all employees.

In presenting the guidelines, the national association uses a number of encyclicals, the U.S. bishops’ pastoral Economic Justice for All, plus Canons 231 and 1286 to underline the just wage principle.

The national association classifies some 20 categories of jobs from parish administrator and business manager to catechist and maintenance worker. Although teachers and principals are not on the list, others positions connected with a parish school, such as cafeteria and library staff, are included. So, too, are detailed job descriptions outlining responsibilities, educational and skill requirements and work experience. The classifications cover top managerial posts as well as those of support staff.

After studying national association surveys and resource materials, the Oakland diocese was able to develop its Parish Compensation Policy. Now when a position is advertised, the salary scale associated with it is posted, Staszkow said. Moreover, the entire personnel policy is in a binder in every parish. It’s also on the Web site: www.oakdiocese.org.

The national association urges church personnel directors and human resource managers to put their policies and practices into writing and to disseminate them as widely as possible. It makes good financial and legal sense. Some insurers have denied liability coverage to dioceses without a written policy.

Still “you’d be surprised how many have nothing in writing,” said Ursuline Sr. Ellen Doyle, executive director of the national association. At least six women who attended a consultation of women in diocesan leadership in Chicago in March approached Doyle to tell her that their diocese had no formal compensation policy. Instead, department heads set salaries.

Doyle’s organization does not encourage dioceses to set pay policy for all parishes, but favors guidelines or a model that is applicable to all parishes. It handles two or three parish surveys a year, and revises classification systems and pay ranges for parishes every three years. The association provides a handbook on how to prepare personnel policy.

The wider the consultation in preparing these policies, the better, Doyle said. “People want to have their concerns heard even if they themselves are not the decision-makers.”

In Oakland, Staszkow represented the Lay Ecclesial Ministers Council on the diocesan Compensation Committee. The council is one of four consultative bodies that serve in an advisory capacity to Oakland Bishop John Cummins. Founded in 1998, it is thought to be the first of its kind in the nation where lay ecclesial ministers have been placed in an official consultative capacity to their bishop within the structure of the diocese.

The council assists Cummins and the diocese by providing a forum for support and formation of lay ministers. It also works to implement church teaching on the laity by providing broadened opportunities for lay participation in the life and ministry of the church, said Kelly Dulka, one of 13 council members. The council also fosters spiritual formation and professional development for its lay ministers, she told NCR.

A growing organization

Both Oakland’s Compensation Committee and the national association grew out of the concerns of priests for the ongoing work of the church. The national association, which began in 1971, was the brainchild of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils, who realized they were wrestling as priests with issues outside their purview, Doyle said. Today the national association has 1,200 members. Five years ago, the percentage of lay members -- 40 -- overtook the percentage of priests (35) and religious (25) for the first time.

Since 1990 the organization has been best known for its annual National Diocesan Salary Survey. Its 2000 survey includes salaries and salary ranges for 66 diocesan administrative and ministry positions found in Catholic sees and Catholic Charities’ agencies. Responses to the national association’s survey came from 58 percent of U.S. Catholic dioceses and from 80 Catholic Charities offices.

Although it tracks the salaries of religious separately from those of lay ministers, the national association advocates comprehensive personnel systems that can be applied to religious, clergy and lay ministers. The notion that a bishop should not have to pay a layperson more than the traditionally low wage he pays his priests and nuns is not totally dead, though it is waning, Doyle told NCR.

In Oakland, the answer to the question: “How do I get a good youth minister?” is “Offer $50,000 per year,” Staszkow said, even though the average national salary among the 72 dioceses responding to the national association’s survey last year was $38,480. Youth ministers have left in Oakland and have become teachers in public schools or campus ministers in Catholic high schools because they were unable to support a family in the Bay Area on a youth minister’s salary -- about $28,000-$33,000, Staszkow said.

Now that Oakland’s Presbyteral Council unanimously supported and mandated the guidelines for personnel policy and pay scales, most priests are happy, Staszkow said, adding that there are always some who don’t like to be told what to do. What’s more, few jobs were lost, and many staff -- particularly those at the low end of the scale -- got raises. But Oakland’s Catholics know they’ll have to give more and pay more to attract and hold quality employees.

That perception is growing nationally, Doyle said, as are salaries. A sampling of 45 administrative and ministerial positions found in the National Diocesan Salary Survey revealed that diocesan salaries grew by 22 percent between 1995 and 2000. Most positions experienced increases between 15 and 30 percent, but six positions increased by 30 percent or more while 10 grew by less than 15 percent.

Doyle indicated that there is much work ahead, especially to provide a living wage to those at the bottom and to young people emerging from formation programs who may look outside the church if they cannot earn a living wage within it.

The national association believes that salaries must be based on a person irrespective of whether the person is male or female, father or mother, head of household or childless. Family and other needs are best addressed in a benefits package, not in compensation, Doyle said.

Church salaries will never be competitive with those in the secular world, she added. But “all church workers who contribute their time, expertise, blood, sweat, tears, faith, service and ministry need to have that respected and to know that they are effective.”

National Catholic Reporter, September 7, 2001