In a move calculated to ease it’s current financial woes, the Catholic Church has offered it’s Episcopate, Presbyterate and Diaconate employees the chance to take time off for extended periods in exchange for a substantial pay cut, the Vatican has announced.
Catholicism, the largest organised Christian church, employs hundreds of thousands of staff, from archbishops to lay ministers, and is thought to be heading towards fiscal meltdown as a result of being slowly crippled by massive wage bills and pension contributions. Dwindling congregations also mean that the Catholic Church is suffering a liturgical deficit as potential souls flock to more glamorous religions such as Islam, Hinduism and Michael Jackson.
Similar to a deal being offered to BT workers, one option available to the clergy is taking a year off with a 75% drop in salary, in return for taking the remainder of their wages as an up-front payment. ‘The Roman Catholic Church is known for its progressive human resource policies and flexible working practices,’ said a Vatican spokesman. ‘This is an innovative way to help our employees during these tough economic times and should negate the need for compulsory redundancies’
Hundreds of priests have already expressed an interest in the scheme, including Pope Benedict XVI: the serious-minded theologian reportedly planning a year at a Buddhist retreat in order to ponder certain doctrinal inconsistencies. However others, including Father Derek Kelly of Durham, are not so sure: ‘Who will see to the spiritual wellbeing of my flock if I go gallivanting around for a year? It’s all very well harping on about risk management but in this increasingly materialistic world, would I have a diocese to come back to?’
The Union of Religious Professionals (UORP) has also expressed concern and recommends that anyone tempted to agree to the deal thinks very carefully about what they are signing up for. ‘Be wary of offers to take unpaid leave during school holidays in order to spend time with your children if you have previously taken a vow of chastity, lest you receive disciplinary action from higher management,’ they warn their members.
Others, such as Archbishop Miguel Hernandez of Guatemala, dismiss such concerns: ‘Taking a year off from being Catholic? My work-life balance could do with some of that! If I can take my vacation at the same time as Spring Break I’ll be swapping my guilt-ridden fears of soul-rending hellfire for a packet of condoms and taking the next plane to Miami!’
(Written 6 Jul 2009)