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Nuns play a leading role in the spiritual life of the public, often doing important social work with a selfless and humble attitude. Nuns do not get paid the same way other people do for working. They turn any earnings over to their congregation, which they trust to provide a stipend that will cover minimum living expenses. Their pay thus depends on their community, not on how much or where they work.
Nuns take a vow of poverty which means they must relinquish all their earnings to the Church. Essentially, nuns don't have a salary.
Nuns may work for the benefit of the Church in any profession, such as social worker, accountant, day care worker, teacher or even doctor. This makes it virtually impossible to estimate average earnings. However, nuns give up any earnings they may have to the Church, so in essence, nuns don't have a salary, even if an average were able to be assessed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, all members of the clergy make a median annual wage of $47,100. In terms of an hourly rate, this is about $22.65. Median means the salary in the middle, so that half of all clergy earn more than this amount and half earn less.
Vow of Poverty
All nuns take a vow of poverty. The vow of poverty is intended to help the nuns remind themselves that God, not man, will supply everything that is necessary, and that spiritual riches matter more than material wealth. The vow of poverty also is supposed to make it easier for a nun to move about various geographical regions at the calling of God, as there is less to transport. Because of the vow of poverty, nuns relinquish any income to their order, which issues them a stipend that covers basic living expenses. Any money from earnings not given back to the nun via the stipend supports the Catholic ministry.
Stipend Varies By Location
The Catholic Church advocates a nun's vow of poverty, but it also recognizes that the cost of living is different based on the geographical location. The stipend is a modest sum paid for food and housing. Stipend amounts vary depending on the location and number of nuns sharing a home. Where the nuns earn an income in institutions such as hospitals, schools and orphanages, they generally will pool these resources back into the running of the home where they live.
Understanding the Tax Issue
Most stipends from the Church are not taxable. Because nuns take a vow of poverty and are members of religious orders, the Internal Revenue Service allows nuns to take exemptions for self-employment and income tax in certain circumstances. Nuns are exempt from income taxes if they make money for services performed as an agent of the order, or if the duties they perform outside of the order are the same or very similar to duties performed as an agent of the order.
Wanda Thibodeaux is a freelance writer and editor based in Eagan, Minn. She has been published in both print and Web publications and has written on everything from fly fishing to parenting. She currently works through her business website, Takingdictation.com, which functions globally and welcomes new clients.