Compensation of U.S. Diocesan Priests in the Catholic Church

This post is authored by CARA Research Associate Michal Kramarek, Ph.D. and provides a brief preview of a much larger new study about salaries and benefits for priests and lay personnel in U.S. parishes. This post shows some top-level and trend information about earnings of diocesan priests. The full study can be purchased now from National Association of Church Personnel Administrators (NACPA) through their online store as a pdf download and printed report.  This research was commissioned and funded by NACPA and the National Federation of Priests' Councils (NFPC).

CARA has finished crunching the numbers for the National Diocesan Survey: Salary and Benefits for Priests and Lay Personnel, 2017. One of the many questions explored in the 203-page report is how much the Catholic Church in the United States pays its priests. The median annual salary of a diocesan priest in 2017 is $29,619 (see the chart below). The median annual salary received by a newly ordained priest is $26,760 and the median annual salary for highest paid priests is $32,478.

The salary is the first, and often most substantial component of diocesan priest’s taxable income. The second component, other taxable cash income, constitutes about 20 cents of every dollar of priests’ income and includes, for example, an allowance for housing and food as well as Mass stipends, retained stole fees, and bonuses. Altogether, a diocesan priest makes $8,924 in other taxable cash income.

The least substantial component of diocesan priests’ income is other taxable non-cash income, accounting for 15 cents for every dollar of total income. Non-cash income includes, for example, diocesan housing, meals prepared for priests as well as priest retreats facilitated by the arch/diocese.

The three components add up to a median overall taxable income of $45,593 for a diocesan priest. How much is it in comparison to other U.S. males who share a similar level of education? Not very much. Between 1996 and 2017 (in the six years for which the data are available), diocesan priests’ taxable income accounted, on average, for less than half (48 percent) of the median income of men ages 25 and over, with a Master’s degree, in the United States. See the chart below (Note: The dotted line indicates missing data. The underlying data for the general population was derived from: U.S. Census Bureau. 2016. “Table P-16.  Educational Attainment--People 25 Years Old and Over by Median Income and Sex: 1991 to 2015." Historical Income Tables).  While diocesan priests’ income is relatively low, it is increasing. In the examined time period, diocesan priests’ median annual taxable income grew by 9 percent, after adjusting for inflation.

How does diocesan priests’ compensation compare across different job assignments and experience levels? How do lay employees compare to diocesan priests in terms of salary and benefits? How do all those groups compare across arch/dioceses of different sizes or different regions? Those are some of the questions CARA explored in the National Diocesan Survey: Salary and Benefits for Priests and Lay Personnel, 2017. You can see more about what the report covers in the Table of Contents.