The Impact of a "Leave of Absence" on a Cleric's Right to Remuneration

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Prepared by Fr. Jason Gray, April 12, 2006
© Copyright 2006 Fr. Jason Gray.
All Rights Reserved.

Other persons are permitted to copy, distribute, or display this work with the following provisions:  Reproduction of this work must contain proper attribution to the author.  No reproduction of this work is allowed for commercial purposes.  This text may not be used to produce a derivative work, whether by altering, transforming, or building on this text.  Other permissions to copy, distribute, display, or reprint this work require the expressed permission of the author.  This document is cited as follows:

Gray, Jason A., The Impact of a "Leave of Absence" on a Cleric's Right to Remuneration; available from http://www.jgray.org/docs/remuneration.html; Internet; accessed 1 January 2006.

              

In general, a diocesan bishop assigns his priests to various offices or functions, and the priests receive their remuneration from the place of their assigned ministry or from the diocese.  Although this system for remunerating clerics is straightforward, the remuneration of clerics becomes more difficult when a cleric is unable or unwilling to provide some ministerial service.

According to canon 281 1, remuneration (remuneratio) is the support that is given to a cleric who dedicates himself to ministry in the Church.  Remuneratio is not merely a stipend paid to a cleric in direct proportion to the amount of work he performs.  Rather, remuneratio provides for a cleric's needs and allows him to maintain an honest living so he enjoys the freedom to give himself to the exercise of his ministry.{1}  Remuneratio should allow the cleric to live with dignity, to pay for his needs and the services of others.  Remuneratio should also enable him to further his education, to take time for vacation, to offer something to the poor, and to set something aside for the future.{2}

Remuneratio is owed when a cleric dedicates himself to ministry (cum ministerio ecclesiastico se dedicant).{3}  The use of cum poses an important question of Latin grammar.  When cum is used with a verb in the indicative, it has a temporal meaning:  Event A happened to occur "when" event B occurred.  When cum is used with a verb in the subjunctive, it has a causal meaning:  Event A occurred "because" event B occurred.{4}  Because the verb in canon 281 1 is indicative, the subordinate clause has temporal force:  "when [a cleric] dedicates himself to ministry. . ."  If this canon were rewritten with the subjunctive, the subordinate clause would have a more causal force:  "because [a cleric] dedicates himself to ministry. . ."  This second expression would emphasize the cause-and-effect relationship between the cleric's dedication and his remuneration:  The cleric's dedication to ministry causes him to enjoy a right to remuneration.  However, even the temporal connotation of this expression in the context of canon 281 1 implies a cause-and-effect relationship.  A cleric deserves remuneration when (at the time in which) he dedicates himself to ministry.  This is to say that whenever a cleric dedicates himself to ministry, he deserves remuneration.  Although this temporal connotation lacks the strength of the subjunctive expression, the cleric's dedication to ministry still results in his claim to remuneration.  Therefore, the Canon Law Society of America appropriately begins the translation of canon 281 1 with the expression, "Since a cleric dedicates himself to ministry."{5}

The code does not indicate that a cleric must actually be engaged in ministry to deserve remuneratio, only that he be dedicated to ministry.  Ordinarily, a cleric who has dedicated himself to his ministry is also actively engaged in ministry.  However, a cleric might be dedicated to ministry but be unable to function for some external cause.  As long as the cleric is willing to serve, he is entitled to remuneratio, even if he is unable to serve.{6}  If a cleric becomes sick, he should not be abandoned but rather deserves remuneratio during the time of his recovery.  When his health improves, he will presumably be able to return to active ministry.  On the contrary, a cleric who is not dedicated to ministry does not deserve remuneratio.  A priest who refuses to accept a reasonable assignment offered by his bishop can be denied remuneration.  A priest who leaves his assignment to marry or to pursue his own interests can also be denied remuneration.  The cleric demonstrates his lack of dedication to ministry when he deserts his assignment or refuses to serve.

Remuneratio may vary for different clerics.  Remuneration must take into account the priest or deacon's function and the conditions of places and times.  Therefore, remuneration does not need to be the same for all clerics.{7}  A cleric's remuneration is specified in particular law and may vary with the type of office that he holds, his age, or the number of years he has been ordained.  Remuneration should be sufficient to allow the cleric to live in a dignified fashion in conformity with the general economic conditions of his locality.{8}  For these reasons, a cleric on a leave of absence might be given a lesser remuneratio than other priests assigned in his diocese, in light of individual circumstances.  Alternatively, the cleric on leave may deserve a greater remuneratio if his needs are greater.  For example, a cleric who is on leave and who must find housing may deserve more support than a cleric who has a place to live provided to him by his assignment.

While remuneratio is owed to a cleric on the basis of his dedication to ministry, sustenance (sustentatio) is owed to a priest or a deacon because he is a cleric.  Canon 384 obligates the diocesan bishop to see to the provision of sustenance and social assistance for his priests.  A priest is entitled to receive sustentatio because he is a cleric by ordination.  His diocesan bishop is obligated to see that sustentatio is provided because the priest is incardinated in his diocese.  Thus, ordination and incardination form the basis for a priest's right to sustentatio.  Although canon 384 only mentions priests, a diocesan bishop should be concerned for his deacons as well.

Sustentatio is the support that is necessary to provide for the basic needs of a cleric, and is owed to a cleric who would otherwise be destitute.  Social assistance is part of sustentatio and provides for a cleric's needs in sickness, incapacity, old age, and retirement.{9}  Social assistance includes the duty to provide health insurance and social security.{10}  Sustentatio is a basic right of the cleric and cannot be withheld even in the case of a penalty.{11}

A diocesan bishop is obligated to see to the provision of sustentatio, but he is not always obligated to provide this support directly.  When a cleric is in need, the diocesan bishop can aid the cleric in a variety of ways.  He can help the cleric enroll in a government program such as Social Security or Medicare.  A cleric who is in need might be given a place to live by the diocesan bishop.  (If a cleric is destitute and in need, it is for the diocesan bishop and not for the cleric to choose where this housing will be.)  The diocesan bishop might assist the cleric through a fund set aside for the care of the clergy.{12}  If the cleric's needs are not sufficiently met through other resources, the diocesan bishop is obligated to provide financial support out of diocesan funds.{13}

The difference between remuneratio and sustentatio is succinctly stated in the Eastern code:  "Clerics have the right to a suitable sustenance (sustentatio) and to receive a just remuneration (remuneratio) for carrying out the office or function committed to them."{14}  The Eastern code indicates that clerics have the right to receive sustentatio because of the clerical state, but they receive remuneratio because they perform the ministerial duties entrusted to them.  Therefore, remuneratio, which provides for the ordinary support of a cleric in his ministry, is more significant than sustentatio, which provides for his essential needs.

A cleric who is dedicated to ministry is generally owed remuneratio, although this right may be restricted because of a penalty.  There are three types of punishments that may financially affect a cleric.  First, a cleric may be given a penance by which he is ordered to perform a work of charity.{15}  While a cleric might be ordered to make a contribution to a worthy cause, this penance does not allow the diocesan bishop to decrease his financial support of a cleric.  The cleric who must perform the penance is still entitled to his salary, although he is bound to make contributions according to the demands of the penance.  Second, a cleric may lose the benefits, stipends, or pensions related to an office if he is suspended.{16}  While this penalty will certainly diminish a cleric's income, the penalty of suspension is temporary and must be remitted when the cleric has withdrawn from contumacy.{17}  Third, a cleric may be subject to an expiatory penalty.  The imposition of this penalty can deprive the cleric of a right or privilege such as a portion of his remuneration.{18}  Only the expiatory penalty can restrict the cleric's right to remuneration for a definite period of time.

The consideration of remuneration and sustenance leads to a three part test to determine what financial support is owed to a cleric:

(1)  Is he a cleric?
          If so, he is entitled to sustenance.
          If not, he cannot claim the right to any financial support.

(2)  Is he dedicated to ministry?
          If so, he is entitled to remuneration.

(3)  Is he subject to a penalty?
          If so, his remuneration may be restricted by the penalty,
          but not his right to sustenance.

This test may be applied to a variety of scenarios in which a cleric is on a leave of absence.  A cleric may voluntarily request a leave of absence or may be involuntarily placed on a leave of absence.  The circumstances of the leave may also vary greatly.  Several different scenarios will be considered below.

A cleric may voluntarily request a leave of absence for his personal reasons, perhaps because he does not wish to continue in ministry, because he is a priest who wants to marry, or because he wants to pursue his own interests.  This man is no longer dedicated to ministry and is not entitled to remuneration.  If he seeks other employment, his sustenance is provided through his income.  However, unless he is dismissed from the clerical state or requests laicization, he is entitled to sustenance from his diocese if he finds himself in need.  If this cleric petitions for sustenance, he entrusts himself to his bishop who will determine how to meet the cleric's needs.  The diocesan bishop may consider what sources of income are available to the cleric when determining what support will be offered by his diocese.  However, if the cleric is able to work in ministry, the bishop may insist that he do so and need not provide financial support if he is unwilling.{19}

A cleric may voluntarily request a leave of absence because of an illness or some other obstacle which prevents him from fulfilling his ministerial obligations.  This man presumably remains dedicated to ministry, but is temporarily prevented from offering his service.  Because he remains dedicated, he is entitled to remuneration.{20}  If the cleric cannot recover and must retire, the diocese is obligated to support him in accord with the norm of particular law.{21}

A cleric may voluntarily request a leave of absence for continuing formation, a sabbatical, or to offer ministerial service in an area of need.{22}  Because this cleric continues to be dedicated to ministry, he deserves remuneration.  He remains incardinated in his diocese.  However, if the cleric will be serving in another diocese, the amount of remuneration he receives must be settled in light of individual circumstances.{23}

A cleric may be involuntarily placed on a leave of absence, perhaps because the cleric is alleged to have committed a delict or a crime, or because the diocesan bishop chose not to give him an assignment for another reason.  This man is still a cleric and presumably remains dedicated to ministry.  Although the cleric is prevented from providing ministerial service, he still retains the right to remuneration because of his dedication.  The cleric may lose some of his remuneration if an expiatory penalty is imposed.  The man may lose all right to remuneration and sustenance if he is dismissed from the clerical state.  However, until his support has been restricted through the imposition of a penalty, he retains the right to remuneration.  While the ordinary can restrict some of the rights of a cleric on administrative leave, he should not use this provision to limit the cleric's support.{24}

Although there are many possible scenarios that might affect a cleric's remuneration or sustenance, many difficulties may be avoided if the value of a cleric's remuneration and sustenance is carefully stated in particular law.  It is for the diocesan bishop to define the value of a cleric's remuneration and sustenance.  By thoroughly defining the amount of remuneration and sustenance a cleric is entitled to receive in different circumstances, the diocesan bishop will avoid the appearance of capriciousness when dealing with individual cases.  If a diocesan bishop does not address in particular law the amount of support a cleric on leave deserves, the cleric may have a claim to the same remuneration as any priest of his diocese.{25}  When a priest is placed on a leave of absence, voluntarily or involuntarily, the procedures in the law should be carefully observed.  If the local ordinary determines that more support is owed or less support is deserved in a particular case, this should be stated in a decree with the reasons for this decision.  The clergy and their dioceses will benefit from clarity and transparency in these matters of financial support.

Endnotes

{1} James H. Provost, "Some Canonical Considerations Relative to Clerical Sexual Misconduct," The Jurist 52 (1992) 632.

{2} James I. Donlon, "Remuneration, Decent Support and Clerics Removed from the Ministry of the Church," Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland Newsletter 142 (June 2005) 48.  John E. Lynch, C.S.P., "Chapter III:  The Obligations and Rights of Clerics (cc. 273-289)" in New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, ed. John P. Beal et al. (New York/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2000) 367.  A cleric should have the financial ability to fulfill the duties mentioned in canons 279, 281 1, 282 2, and 283 2.

{3} Codex Iuris Canonici auctoritate Ioannis Pauli PP. II promulgatus (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1983) c. 281 1.

{4} Charles E. Bennett, Latin Grammar, (Wauconda, IL:  Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 2004) 185, 188-189.

{5} Lynch, 368.  Code of Canon Law, Latin-English Edition: New English Translation (Washington, DC: CLSA, 1998) c. 281 1.  Emphasis added.

{6} Donlon, 46-47.

{7} C. 281 1.  Lynch, 367.

{8} Donlon, 48-49.

{9} Lynch, 369.  Social assistance is mentioned in canon 281 2 without reference to a cleric's dedication to ministry.  Therefore, a cleric has a right to this social assistance regardless of his fulfillment of ministerial duties.

{10} Donlon, 50.

{11} C. 1350 1.  However, one who is dismissed from the clerical state can be denied sustentatio (c. 1350 2).

{12} A diocesan bishop is to provide an institute for the support of the clergy where this is needed in accord with canon 1274 1 and 2.

{13} Donlon, 49.

{14} Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium auctoritate Ioannis Pauli PP. II promulgatus (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1990) c. 390 1: "Clerici ius habent ad congruam sustentationem et ideo pro implendo eis commisso officio vel munere iustam remunerationem percipiendi."

{15} C. 1340 1.

{16} C. 1333 4.

{17} C. 1358 1.

{18} C. 1336 1, 2.

{19} A cleric, unless legitimately impeded, is obligated to undertake a function entrusted to him by his bishop (c. 274 2).  John P. Beal, "Leaves of Absence" in Clergy Procedural Handbook, ed. Randolph Calvo and Nevin Klinger (Washington: CLSA, 1992) 172.  William H. Woestman, The Sacrament of Orders and the Clerical State, second edition (Ottawa:  St. Paul University, 2001) 190.

{20} Beal, 152.  Woestman, 190.

{21} Canon 538 3 describes the right of a retired pastor to housing and support in accord with the norms established by the conference of bishops.  Canon 1274 1 describes the fund in each diocese that is to provide for the needs of clerics.  Although canon 538 addresses only pastors, all clerics should be cared for in retirement.

{22} Clerics are to continue to pursue sacred studies even after ordination (c. 279 1).  Some clerics may wish to participate in a sabbatical program with the permission of the local ordinary and in accord the norm of particular law.  Furthermore, a diocesan bishop is obligated to send some clerics to ecclesiastical universities or faculties for the good of his diocese (c. 819).  On the other hand, a cleric may wish to take a leave of absence to serve in a place of need.  A diocesan bishop is not to deny permission to those clerics who desire to exercise ministry in regions where there is a grave lack of clergy (c. 271 1).  For example, a cleric may ask for a leave in order to serve as a missionary or a military chaplain.

{23} Beal, 159.

{24} C. 1722.  This canon allows precautionary restrictions to be imposed in order to "prevent scandals, to protect the freedom of witnesses, and to guard the course of justice."  This canon does not mention restricting a cleric's support as one of the precautionary measures.  It is difficult to imagine a circumstance in which a cleric's support would need to be restricted in order to avoid scandal, protect witnesses, and guard justice.

{25} Gregory Ingels, "Right of Unassignable Priest to Remuneration," Roman Replies and CLSA Advisory Opinions 1997 (Washington: CLSA, 1997) 38.  Ingels makes reference to a case in which the Congregation for the Clergy decided that a priest who was not assigned by the diocesan bishop was owed full remuneration.

Bibliography

Primary Sources
     Code of Canon Law, Latin-English Edition: New English Translation.  Washington, DC: CLSA, 1998.
     Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium auctoritate Ioannis Pauli PP. II promulgatus.  Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1990.
     Codex Iuris Canonici auctoritate Ioannis Pauli PP. II promulgatus.  Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1983.

Secondary Sources
     Beal, John P.  "Leaves of Absence" in Clergy Procedural Handbook, ed. Randolph Calvo and Nevin Klinger (Washington: CLSA, 1992) 142-177.
     Bennett, Charles E.  Latin Grammar.  Wauconda, IL:  Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 2004.
     Donlon, James I.  "Remuneration, Decent Support and Clerics Removed from the Ministry of the Church."  Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland Newsletter 142 (June 2005) 43-62.
     Ingels, Gregory.  "Right of Unassignable Priest to Remuneration" in Roman Replies and CLSA Advisory Opinions 1997 (Washington: CLSA, 1997) 36-39.
     Lynch, John E., C.S.P.  "Chapter III:  The Obligations and Rights of Clerics (cc. 273-289)."  In New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, ed. John P. Beal et al., (New York/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2000) 343-381.
     Provost, James H.  "Some Canonical Considerations Relative to Clerical Sexual Misconduct."  The Jurist 52 (1992) 615-641.
     Woestman, William H.  The Sacrament of Orders and the Clerical State, second edition.  Ottawa:  St. Paul University, 2001.