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Features » International

How much should a bishop be paid?

Recent scandals put spotlight on prelates' salaries

How much should a bishop be paid?

Picture: National Catholic Reporter

Mick Forgey for National Catholic Reporter International

April 10, 2014

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Catholics in Newark, N.J., were outraged to learn that Archbishop John Myers had spent $500,000 for an extension on his retirement home. Catholics in Atlanta questioned the acceptability of Archbishop Wilton Gregory's building a $2.2 million residence for himself.

For many, these actions raised the questions: What is acceptable compensation for a sitting bishop and for a retired bishop? Who determines what's acceptable?

NCR's interviews with bishops and experts who monitor church finances found that no hard and fast rules govern this issue. National guidelines exist, and seem to be widely followed, but specifics on local implementation are hard to come by.

The average bishop's salary seems to be in line with that of priests within his diocese.

"Most dioceses use the compensation levels for their clergy as the reference point," said Frank Butler, principal and founder of Drexel Philanthropic Advisors. "So, we do know what that is. Typically, across the country, average priests' salaries go from anywhere from $15,000 to $18,000, maybe a little bit higher than that." Butler is also former president of Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities (FADICA).


The website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has a document titled "Diocesan Financial Issues," which includes a section called "Guidelines for the Retirement of Bishops."

For all bishops in retirement, the section recommends a minimum $1,900 monthly stipend. It also recommends that "in fraternal charity and solicitude," each diocese provide:

  • Appropriate housing and board;
  • Benefits covering the full cost of medical care, as well as home health care, assisted living facilities or long-term care facilities;
  • An office with secretarial assistance;
  • Transportation, including an insured automobile for personal use;
  • Travel expenses to attend official meetings;
  • A funeral and burial.

This is where it can get tricky.

"One of the issues here is that so much of the bishops' compensation comes in the form of perks," said Charles Zech, director of the Center for Church Management and Business Ethics at Villanova University.

"They live in a mansion rent-free. Meals and other things associated with the position are often not charged to them. They get a chauffeur driver wherever they go. A lot of what you and I would recognize as compensation really doesn't show up as such, because it's not part of their salary, and it's part of the overall running of the diocese, and it's hard to pull out as being compensation to the bishop, per se."

Jack Ruhl, professor of accountancy at Western Michigan University, provided NCR with some of the only published compensation figures available that were specific to diocesan leaders. Dioceses aren't required to report anything, according to Ruhl.

In its 2013 financial report, the Boston archdiocese listed Cardinal Sean O'Malley's "Reportable Compensation from Corporation Sole" at $43,153. It included in a footnote: "From Cardinal O'Malley's stipend, $35,953 is paid to the Capuchin Priests and Brothers; $7,200 is paid to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Boston for housing." The document also listed an Amount of Other Compensation Not Included on W-2/1099 for O'Malley of $16,800.

Ruhl also provided a document on benefit plans under Notes to Financial Statements, June 30, 2011 and 2010, from the St. Paul and Minneapolis archdiocese.

"The Archdiocese has a deferred compensation agreement with an archbishop who retired in fiscal 2008," the document states. "The agreement requires monthly benefit payments for life plus health and medical insurance and allowances for other living expenses. The present value of the estimated future obligation under this agreement is estimated to be approximately $429,000 at June 30, 2011 and 2010 based on the expected annual cost of approximately $61,000 for both years."

A bishop's compensation is generally paid for by his diocese, according to Zech. "It comes from diocesan revenues, like the compensation for any diocesan employee. Investments, income from investments that the diocese receives, contributions, and, of course, parishioner contributions are passed on to the diocese through the parish assessment."

Full Story: How much is a bishop worth?

Source: National Catholic Reporter


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