Q: Archbishop J, why is the Christmas collection for our priests?
At Christmas and Easter the whole collection from all parishes goes to the support of the clergy. It is for more than the monthly stipend of $2500. It is of critical importance that the collection be seen as providing for the whole support of the priest—from ordination to retirement.
The Church is like a family business. Your family is your family no matter what. In sickness or in health we need to support our priests. This Christmas I am asking that we dig a little deeper to give a gift, to support our priests.
Who are we?
Our priests are there for us all year round. They baptise our children, marry our couples, hear our confession, anoint our sick and bury our dead. They celebrate the Eucharist every day and are there when we need someone to listen to us.
They lead our parishes and comfort us in times of need, giving advice and sometimes just moral support. A priest’s job is never ending. This is because it is a vocation. The priest is responding to God’s call to shepherd God’s people.
I invite you to consider the life of the priest. It is a life of sacrifice. Mass often begins his day. Then he must lead the parish, which encompasses many facets—liturgical life; faith formation; involvement in the social life of the community; visiting of the elderly; scheduling of Eucharistic ministers for sick visitation; engaging our youth, ensuring they get a good formation; encouraging our catechists and working with them to ensure they present the faith in a meaningful way and formation of leaders.
He must account for monies collected, pay bills, look after the cemetery, ensure buildings are maintained, visit families, provide counselling, comfort the bereaved, visit schools and form schoolchildren and teachers, and he must prepare his homilies.
A priest is involved in a variety of activities on a daily basis. Not all of us are exceptional in all areas, but we all have to attempt to do our best.
We promise prayer, celibacy and obedience. Those who belong to religious congregations also promise poverty. These promises free us to be available to God and to you. We are celibate but we are not lonely. We are there for people in the joys and sorrows of their lives.
Our prayer anchors our day and sharpens our perspective as we strive to make God the centre and source of our existence. For us everyday is Christmas, as we see Christ born in the hearts and lives of people in the most unexpected times and ways. In tragedy and joy we have a front row seat. We are there for you 24/7/365.
Are we perfect? Oh no! We are as weak as anyone else. We fall short of our ideals and promises in so many ways. Yet, each day, through our prayers we are reminded of God’s love and call Him, and we are renewed. We pick ourselves up so often, recommit many times a day and we stick to our call and live it to the best of our ability.
Is our best sufficient? No, it is not. But we strive constantly to become a better version of ourselves. We also strive to lead you to become a better version of yourself. We care for you, for the creation and for the vulnerable. That is how we spend our lives. That is why we need you to help care for us.
Caring for our priests
Many years ago some particular steps were taken, a system of solidarity designed, to provide for all our priests. Previously, if a priest was in a rich parish his stipend was different from one in a poor parish. The solution was to centralise the care for priests so everyone got the same.
The whole Christmas and Easter collection goes to the support of the clergy. All collections, from all Masses on these two days, are combined with stipends for baptism, weddings and funerals, and weekday collections to form what is called the Clergy Pool.
For the years 2015 to 2018, the total average income is just under $5M. The figure has been stable for this period, neither going up or down. The highest income comes from the Easter collection, approximately $2M, with the Christmas collection, at approximately $1.5M. Monthly income from Clergy Pool adds up to $1.5M per year, on average.
The sum of five million may seem like a lot of money. But one must consider it upkeeps approximately 60 priests, i.e., approximately $7,000 per priest per month, covering all expenses— stipend and medical care, ongoing formation, education and study, retirement and old age support. The total collection has not changed in the last four years: the expenses, however, have been rising.
Expenditure, in summary, for the same period: Payroll & Stipends—$3.5M; Medical Expenses—$.5M (in 2016, $1M); Health Insurance Premiums—$.5M; Education & Study—$.2M; Living & Other Expenses—$.3M (in 2016, $.5M). There are one-off expenses related to legal fees.
We now have a group of diocesan priests set to retire, and the number will rise. This means we have to provide for a retirement home for diocesan priests and find the way to care for them. These are our priests who have worked hard for many years in our Archdiocese. We need to care for them.
This Christmas, with all the other gifts that we give, please remember your priests who serve you all year round. I know that many give to individual priests. Considering the rising cost of caring for ageing priests and rising costs, in general, please be generous in your giving to the Christmas and Easter collections so we can continue to be generous to you.
Have a Happy Christmas. May the Christ Child lead you to depth in faith, and joy in abundance.
Key message: Our priests are here for us, let us support them in the two collections for the year.
Action step: Please give generously to the Christmas collection, which is used to support our priests.
Scripture reading: Gal 6:6–10.