Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, Decree on the Priests’ Remuneration Fund in Australia, 29 April 2000.
1. Having taken note of the question “Whether in light of Canons 281, §1 and 1274, §1 Guideline 12 from the Charter of Priests’ Remuneration Fund of the Diocese of XXX is in accordance with universal law,” presented by letter dated February , 2000 from the Reverend Procurator/Advocate for a priest incardinated in the Diocese of XXX, such letter being protocolled by this Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts as N. 7194/2000.
2. Having clarified that the formal request of the Procurator/Advocate for an “official interpretation” must be understood, obviously, in the sense that there must be a pronouncement concerning the conformity of the particular norm to the universal laws of the Church, pursuant to Art. 158 of the Ap. Const. Pastor Bonus.
3. Having examined carefully the documentation forwarded to this Dicastery and having verified in particular that Guideline 12 of the new Charter provides that “It is the Policy of the Priests’ Remuneration Fund to adjust payments from the Fund in accordance with the full or part pension that a Priest might receive or be entitled to receive. Priests who are eligible to apply for a pension are expected to apply for this benefit for the common good. Remuneration benefits payable under these guidelines will be adjusted accordingly,” and that this Guideline substantially reproduces what had already been determined in Guideline 21 of the previous norms for the Priests Remuneration Fund (1976).
4. Having verified in law that, in auction of that which has been foreseen by the Second Vatican Council in the decree PresbyterorumOrdinis (nn. 2-21), the universal laws of the Church and canonical scholarship have individuated the following points of reference for an equitable system for the support of clergy:
4.1. The first paragraph of can. 1292 establishes that every diocese is to arrange for the establishment of a special fund “in accordance with Canon 281, for the support of the clergy who serve the diocese, unless they are otherwise provided for.” While reference is made to can. 281 in its entirety,
it is the first paragraph of that canon that is of interest in the case at hand: “Since clerics dedicate themselves to the ecclesiastical ministry, they deserve the remuneration that befits their condition, taking into account both the nature of their office and the conditions of time and place. It is to be such that it provides for the necessities of their life and for the just remuneration of those whose services they need.”
The distinct emphases of the two canons are easily identifiable. Can. 281, §1 speaks of the exercise of ministry without any reference to service in favour of the diocese, an element that is specified, in contrast, in can. 1274. While can. 281 creates a generic right, can. 1274, in the specific context of the diocesan institute or fund, refers more narrowly to clergy who render service to the diocese. One notes, moreover, that can. 1264, §1 does not foresee a “national” institute for the remuneration of priests, but only for other purposes (cfr. §4).
The fact that can. 281 is found in the chapter of Book II that sets forth the obligations and rights of clergy leads to the logical conclusion that remuneration is a right: a cleric has a right to adequate remuneration.
In establishing the “source” of the remuneration, can. 1274 follows an approach that leaves open many possibilities and does not impose a direct correspondence between remuneration and those for whose advantage a cleric exercises his ecclesiastical ministry.
The above-cited provisions involve a general affirmation that is quite relevant: the remuneration of which can. 281 speaks cannot be considered to be a “stipend,” that is, it is not to be considered compensation for work performed, agreed upon and measured in relationship to either the quantity or the quality of the services rendered.
A diocesan system for remuneration is extended to all those priests who exercise in service to the diocese some “ministry”, as that concept is determined in its concrete aspects by particular law; that same legislation, moreover, is required to establish the parameters for remuneration and any incidental factors relating to the same, taking into account two legal points of reference: the nature of the office and the circumstances of time and place.
4.2. The remuneration that the Church must ensure for the cleric who dedicates himself to the exercise of ministry according to the mandate of the Bishop is not measurable according to the criteria of commutative justice, that is, of reciprocity and of proportionality with respect to the particular services rendered by the cleric. The Church, in fact, is not called upon to ensure a “stipend” (can. 281, §1 uses, in fact, the term “remuneratio,” which expresses a different concept than “stipendium”) for the work or works performed by the cleric, but guarantees to the cleric honest sustenance, whatever might be the assignment (or assignments) that he receives from the Bishop, so that he might continue to exercise his ministerial service, requiring the total giving of himself and his time, in serenity and complete liberty.
From this perspective, one sees the radical difference between the “remuneration” given to a cleric and the salary or stipend paid to the laity: above all, it is not the quantity of services performed that needs to be recognised and proportionately compensated, but rather the person of the cleric, who offers his services, or should offer his services, for reasons other than those which would motivate the average labourer.
4.3. The Code of Canon Law, in accord with what has already been presented, leaves open a vast array of possibilities regarding the “sources” from which it is legitimate to receive the “quantum” necessary for the remuneration of clergy. Canon 1274, §1, in fact, speaks of a diocesan institute for the support of the clergy, “unless they are otherwise provided for.” Based on that phrase, one can deduce that the remuneration of a cleric may come from other sources, whether taken singularly or pooled together. Schematically, there are three types of sources for the necessary sustenance:
a. ecclesiastical entities for which the priests exercise their ministry whether full-time or part-time;
b. subjects from which the priests receive what corresponds to a true and proper stipend, or a pension, according to the norms in force of the relevant juridical order;
c. the diocesan institute or fund.
It is recognized that, in practice, there are priests who simultaneously provide services to a number of ecclesiastical entities. Such ecclesiastical
entities may be at the diocesan level or at a broader level. All these entities are bound, by virtue of the services requested, to make their proper economic contribution, according to particular law.
The payers of stipends may be either ecclesiastical entities (imagine, for example, a Catholic school, etc.) or civil entities - whether private or public - for which the priests exercise a task by virtue of an express or tacit mandate of their own Ordinary.
The diocesan institute or fund has the task, in those cases in which the designated level of remuneration for the individual cleric is not met, of supplementing the partial remuneration received from ecclesiastical entities or the stipend received from other sources. Nothing prohibits the entities subject to the Diocesan Bishop, or having contacted with him, from paying directly to the diocesan institute the contribution owed to the individual priest if the fiscal system in use would make that advantageous.
The taking into account all the possible sources of remuneration falls explicitly within the ratio legis intended by the canonical legislator. Such action is required both to express the unity of ministerial service of the priests incardinated in a diocese and to guarantee an adequate equalization of work and of remuneration between all the priests.
4.4. From the legislative references set forth above, one clearly deduces that, where a diocesan system of remuneration is in existence, it is not permitted for the individual cleric to “refuse” the relevant contribution derived from one of the available sources or to “not request” whatever belongs to him, and, at the same time, to claim the usual supplement. By such an act, in fact, he would damage the entire system that, in concrete, is interrelated in a manner that is akin to the relationship described by the principle of physics known as “communicating vessels”: that which the individual refuses must be paid by the common fund, resulting in damage to the others drawing from the common fund.
With respect to the inclusion of pensions collected, or which could be collected (inasmuch as they are owed, if requested, by the State), one notes that, taking into account the state of the economic resources of the diocese and of the specific context of the general principles set forth above, they could be included in the calculation of remuneration. If one considers
the necessary equality that should exist among the priests of a diocese, it may be appropriate or necessary to include in the pool of resources to be redistributed all those incomes that are able to be objectively quantified. It is not only licit but also appropriate to take into account – whether partially or totally, depending on the circumstances – the income received by the individual, as long as it does not come from strictly personal savings. There have been some objections that pensions should be considered as income from personal resources and not to be figured into the accounting. However, other than the practical difficulty involved in a system of remuneration that seeks to encompass even personal income derived from inheritances or from capital, one cannot forget that a pension “owed” by the State and income from personal goods are economic goods that are quite different.
4.5. The statutes and by-laws of a diocesan fund, regardless of whether it has been erected as a juridical person, are true and proper particular norms, as long as they were established or approved by the diocesan bishop and published. As such, they have full validity as long as they are not contrary to the universal laws. Given the nature and the relative breadth of the power of the diocesan bishop (cf. cann. 383, §1 and 291), decisions concerning the extension of particular laws which are either secundum legem or praeter legem fall within his discretion.
Even though the relevant norms presently in effect in the Diocese of XXX are designated as Guidelines, it is clear that those Guidelines which set forth precise “dispositions” – such as the one now being examined – must substantially be considered as diocesan regulatory norms, inasmuch as they are expressly approved and published by the Diocesan Bishop.
4.6. The present case does not, moreover, present circumstances for invoking the principle of canonical equity. “Aequitas canonica” is a canonical notion that comes into play at the moment that the law is applied, to correct any abstractness in the law that would render it inadequate or unjust in relationship to a concrete situation. A norm such as the one here in question, however, could be considered to be contrary to canonical equity only in the case that it, when considered in itself and not in its application, would be contrary to natural right. The diocesan norm in question, as such, does not injure in any way the right of the individual cleric to adequate remuneration; it serves, rather, to guarantee it. It constitutes a stimulus so
that the negligence of some would not cause damage to the well-being of the others.
5. Having confirmed its competence, in accordance with art. 158 of the Ap. Const. Pastor Bonus, with respect to questions of conformity, this Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts
that Guideline 12 (formally 21) as cited above is not contrary to the universal laws of the Church.
The present decree is to be communicated to the Bishop of XXX, and to the Reverend Procurator/ Advocate.
Comm 32 (2000): 162-167; CLSGBI Newsletter, 125 (March, 2001): 37-41.