Letter from a canonist to the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, 18 October 2012; response from the Pontifical Council as it forwards the canonist’s letter to the Congregation for Clergy, 21 January 2013; and response from the Congregation for the Clergy, Cleric’s right to remuneration, 8 November 2013, Private.
A U.S. canonist, living in Rome, wrote to the Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts seeking clarification regarding the interpretation of canon 281 §1 regarding the provision of financial support to priests who are not in ministry after having been exonerated from accusations of sexual misconduct. The Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, in his response, noted that the concern was not an interpretation of the law but a question of the correct application of the law and forwarded the letter to the Congregation for the Clergy. The Undersecretary of the Congregation for the Clergy, noting that each case is affected by particular circumstances, clarified the distinction between sustenance and remuneration. The correspondence follows.
18 October 2012
S.E.R. Mons. Juan Ignacio Arrieta Ochoa de Chinchetru
Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts
Palazzo delle Congregazioni
Piazza Pio XII
I am an American canonist, living in Rome, and I occasionally work with ______, an organization dedicated to the support of Catholic priests. It was founded about ten years ago by ______, when a flurry of accusations of sexual misconduct (some true, some false) were made against priests of their diocese. Since that time, they have worked to provide canonical and financial help to priests in need, in all parts of the U.S. Often this need results from a refusal of the priests’ Ordinaries to give them any financial support.
We find that sometimes, U.S. priests are falsely accused of sexual misconduct, and after an investigation they are subsequently exonerated – and yet their Ordinary refuses to assign them to ministry again, even though he now knows that the original accusation was false. This apparently happens because the Ordinary fears that the American media, which is openly hostile to the Church, will accuse him of “supporting child molesters,” even if the accused priest has already been proven innocent.
In these situations, when an accused-but-exonerated priest is not working in ministry, his Ordinary then refuses to provide him with any financial assistance on the grounds that the priest is not earning it. This means that innocent priests are indefinitely abandoned by their Ordinaries, without any financial support.
These priests are left entirely destitute and ______ frequently has to search for financial assistance to ensure that they have housing, food, and medical care. The Catholic lay donors to ______ are therefore supporting priests who are not under any sanction and are entirely capable of continuing to work in priestly ministry.
We have discovered that the ambiguity of canon 281 §1 often can be used as a justification for the Ordinary’s decision to refuse financial support for these exonerated priests. Clerici, cum ministerio ecclesiastico se dedicant, remunerationem merentur quae suae condicioni congruat is frequently being defined in the U.S. as meaning that if an Ordinary decides not to put one of his priests in a ministerial position, he doesn’t need to pay him for anything!
We hope that the fundamental injustice of this situation is evident. I would also like to point out that the corresponding canon in the CCEO contains no ambiguity: Clerici ius habent ad congruam sustentationem (c. 390).
For these reasons, we respectfully submit a dubium to the Pontifical Council, and request an authoritative interpretation that will definitely clarify this grave confusion about canon 281 §1:
Utrum cleric liceat remunerationem repetere quae pertineat ad condicionem suam etiam cum munusnon exerceat; an liceat ipsi renuere remunerationem cum ille libens et sui compos, neque quolibet impedimento cohibetur ad explendum munus suum, sed Ordinarius non vult munus ei concredere?
“Whether the cleric has the right to remuneration befitting his condition even if he is not engaged in ministry; or whether remuneration can be refused to him if he is willing and able to accept an assignment and is not suffering from any impediment, but his Ordinary does not choose to assign him to ministry?”
Thanking you in advance for your time and consideration, I am,
PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR LEGISLATIVE TEXTS21 January 2013
Prot. N. ______
This Pontifical Council received your letter of 18 October 2012 requesting a canonical clarification of canon 281 §1 CIC on a cleric’s right to remuneration. You asked, in particular, whether the cleric has the right to remuneration befitting his condition even if he is not engaged in ministry; or whether remuneration can be refused to him, if he is willing and able to accept an assignment, and is not suffering from any impediment, but his Ordinary does not choose to assign him to ministry.
It was noted that your query does not involve a specific interpretation of a law, which is already clear, but rather a correct application of it. We have therefore forwarded your request to the Congregation for the Clergy that has competence over this matter, together with our opinion on the merits that you indicated. Any further inquiry should be directed toward the said Dicastery.
As regards the situations described in your letter, our opinion is that the norms already established in canons 281 §1; 384 and 1350 CIC are quite sufficient to provide a just solution to the case.
We hope that the above information will be helpful to you. Please be assured of our prayer and special esteem for your important ministry.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+ Juan Ignacio Arrieta
CONGREGATION FOR CLERGYVatican City
8 November 2013
Prot. N. ______
I am writing in reply to your letter of 18 October 2012, which was forwarded to this Congregation earlier this year by the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, regarding the correct application of the law and not its interpretation. This Dicastery can respond only in the abstract, with the awareness that every individual case is affected by the particular circumstances which surround it.
Your letter highlights the confusion that often exists between sustenance and remuneration. The two are not the same (cf., for example, the reference to both in cc. 230 §1 and 281 §3). Sustenance is the more fundamental of the two, providing for a cleric’s essential needs, such as food, shelter, and adequate medical care. Honest sustenance is a basic right rooted in incardination and is not dependent upon a cleric being dedicated to ministry.
Remuneration (cf. c. 281 §1) provides more amply for a cleric’s needs in such a way that it frees him for the work of ministry which he is about to undertake, and thus it is dependent upon his dedicating himself to sacred ministry. The right to remuneration is not absolute, and may be lost entirely under certain circumstances. Understanding the clear distinction between sustenance and remuneration can clarify many of the situations which you describe in your letter.
Thanking you for your inquiry, and with assurances of prayers and best wishes, I remain
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Mons. Antonio Neri
Congregation for the Clergy, Cleric’s right to remuneration, 8 November 2013; prior letter from a canonist to the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, 18 October 2012, and response from the Pontifical Council as it forwards the canonist’s letter to the Congregation for Clergy, 21 January 2013, Private, CLSA, Roman Replies and CLSA Advisory Opinions, 2014, 11-15.