After receiving sharp criticism from especially German bishops, the Vatican is facing more pushback on its new parish instruction, this time from the Church in Malta on the subject of fees for the sacraments.
– Difficult to abide by Vatican rules when pandemic has exerted “considerable cashflow pressures” on Church: Maltese Curia
In its instruction published July 20 – entitled “The pastoral conversion of the Parish community in the service of the evangelising mission of the Church” – the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy warned that priests “not to ‘commercialise’ the sacramental life, and not to give the impression that the celebration of the Sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, along with other ministerial activities, are subject to tariffs”.
An offering made by a member of the faithful to a priest for a baptism, wedding, funeral or the like “by its very nature, must be a free act on the part of the one offering, left to one’s conscience and sense of ecclesial responsibility, not a ‘price to pay’ or a ‘fee to exact’, as if dealing with a sort of ‘tax on the Sacraments'”, the Vatican Congregation cautioned clerics.
But an unnamed spokesperson in the Curia of the Church in Malta told The Times of Malta August 3 that although in theory “one cannot put a price on the sacraments”, Church costs – including on salaries, utility bills, maintenance costs and other liturgical supplies – have to be recouped somehow.
“The tradition of contributing towards the Church and supporting its ministers and pastoral work for the good of the community is a universal norm that goes back a number of centuries and is also referred to in Canon Law”, the spokesperson told the Maltese newspaper.
According to the Times of Malta, Maltese parishes normally charge €120 for weddings and €85 for funerals, with no fee being attached to baptisms, although donations are normally made anyway for celebrations of the sacrament of Christian initiation.
Maltese priests have been waiving funeral fees amid the coronavirus pandemic and foregoing other dues more generally from those without the means to pay them.
But as the COVID-19 economic and social crisis bites, and parish income dwindles close to nil, the practice of charging for the sacraments is likely to continue in Malta, even as the Vatican in its parish instruction “recommended earnestly” to priests that they freely avail the faithful of Catholic rites “even if they have not received an offering” for them.
The Maltese Curia spokesperson acknowledged that it would be difficult to abide by the new Vatican instructions on fees given that “the pandemic has exerted considerable cashflow pressures on the Church and its entities as income from donations and contributions has dried up across the board”.
– Church in Malta predicting losses of €6-8 million just by end of year
The difficult financial situation the Church in Malta is experiencing was revealed August 6 when archdiocesan administrative secretary Michael Pace Ross explained that although the Maltese Church registered a €3.5 million surplus in 2019 – up from a deficit of €137,000 in 2018 – that extra money will not be enough to make up for what the Church called the “severe financial challenges” posed by COVID-19, for which reason it is now resorting to past savings.
In fact, the coronavirus crisis is likely to be so acute the Church in Malta is now predicting losses of between €6-€8 million just by the end of this year, Pace Ross said.
The Church in Malta will also have to factor into its expenses for coming years the costs associated with the ‘One Church, One Journey’ ecclesial renewal process it is carrying out until 2024.
With that process, Maltese bishops, priests and laypeople are aiming not only at Church reform but also at “a social and political conversion” from the ills besetting the country, from tax evasion, graft, omertà and nepotism to the uniquely Maltese trait of pika, or “neighbourly rivalry”.