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The two main classifications of Roman Catholic priests are religious priests and diocesan priests. Religious priests belong to an order, such as the Franciscans or Jesuits. A diocesan priest, or secular priest, works under the stewardship of the bishop of his diocese. A diocese is a religious district that is divided into parishes and governed by a bishop. The bishop assigns priests to parishes.
A religious priest, such as the Jesuit, takes a vow of poverty. Anything he earns goes to his order, and each order supports its priests. In the United States, the Internal Revenue Service recognizes the vow of poverty, and therefore exempts religious priests from paying federal income tax.
A diocesan priest does not take a vow of poverty. Salaries among diocesan priests vary according to the diocese in which they serve. Compensation is based on the local standard of living. The parish provides the priest’s basic necessities. Along with a salary, a diocesan priest might receive health insurance, a retirement plan, living quarters and a car allowance. There were approximately 30,000 diocesan priests in the United States as of the year 2002, according to "Roman Catholic Priests," a report posted on the University of Missouri-St. Louis website.
Annual salaries for diocesan priests ranged between $15,291 and $18,478 as of 2002, according to "Roman Catholic Priests." This was higher than the income range reported for 1998, cited by the United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, which showed annual salaries between $12,936 and $15,483. Additional benefits, such as housing, medical insurance, and a retirement plan, might push the package value over $30,000 a year.
Instead of presiding over a parish or serving as a religious priest, a Catholic priest might take another position. Depending on his education, he might be an administrator at a college, preside over a private school, become a hospital chaplain, or serve in some other capacity. In such cases, income can vary considerably according to the position and circumstances.
As one example, in July 2011, a job posting for an ordained Roman Catholic priest to serve as the priest chaplain for a hospital offered a minimum hourly salary of $20.24, and a maximum hourly salary of $32.99. The full-time position offered 32 weekly hours, making the annual salary of a priest for the position, earning the maximum range, slightly under $55,000. The position was eligible for additional benefits. The job requirements included a Master of Divinity degree.
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Ann Johnson has been a freelance writer since 1995. She previously served as the editor of a community magazine in Southern California and was also an active real-estate agent, specializing in commercial and residential properties. She has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from California State University, Fullerton.