The Vatican may have rebuked priests over ‘tariffs’ for weddings and funerals, but the Church in Malta says it still needs to cover expenses related to the administration of the sacraments.

Such is its dire cashflow situation following the pandemic that the archdiocese is currently tapping past surpluses to sustain its pastoral mission, a Curia spokesperson highlighted. 

The Holy See said earlier this month that priests must not charge fixed prices to administer sacraments, “giving the impression the celebration of sacraments is subject to tariffs”.

An offering, the Holy See said in its revised guidelines to priests, must by its very nature be a free act.

Local church practices risk running foul of those guidelines, and while a Curia spokesperson said that in principle “one cannot put a price on the sacraments”, it also said that costs had to be covered nevertheless.

Locally, parishes charge a nomi­nal fee of €120 for weddings and €85 for funerals, with wedding dues remaining unchanged since 2012. Baptisms do not have a price tag on them, but a donation is normally offered by parents towards the parish.

A Curia spokesperson said the Church relies heavily on volunteers and needs to cover costs that include salaries, general expenses such as utili­ty bills, maintenance works and consumables required for celebrations. 

“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 said.

The pandemic has exerted considerable cashflow pressures on the Church and its entities

While many Roman Catholic churches ask for donations for Masses – and in some countries, they can be the only source of income for priests – the Vatican also “earnestly re­commends” these are celebrated even if they have not received an offering.

Others have specific price lists for various services, from baptisms to Masses in memory of the dead – a practice the Holy See frowns upon.

A local wedding organiser confirmed that, above the fixed €120 fee, donations can also be made to the priest, church and sacristan by whoever wished to, while a funeral director said an extra €20 ‘donation’ was often paid for each additional priest, although this could also be turned down.

He said the €85 fee charged for funerals was not frowned upon, as the priest would have to first go to the hospital, then lead a church service and the burial at a cemetery, which took up a considerable amount of time.

The director said parish priests were known to waive fees for very poor people and a Curia spokesperson said most priests had stopped requesting financial contributions for funerals during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite income from parishes being “close to nil”.

While the odd parish did not abide by these Curia instructions, some people still freely opted to pay the fee, the funeral director said.

An additional €25 is ‘informally’ charged for cemetery expenses if the burial does not take place at the Addolorata to cover maintenance costs, he said, pointing out that “you cannot not charge for these things”.

Some seemed to forget that the Church has its own expenses to cover, the director said.

The Vatican’s reminder to priests not to charge for sacraments comes despite the universal Church suffering a financial fallout from corona­virus. Its finance minister warned in May that the closure of museums and axing of fundraising events would see takings drop by up to 45 per cent.

“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,” the Curia spokesperson acknowledged.

Returns on investments have plunged, and the regular annual dividend from APS Bank was suspended in line with a European recommendation.

On the other hand, demand for financial assistance from entities, families and individuals has increased, and the archdiocese is digging into past surpluses to sustain its pastoral mission, the spokes­person pointed out.

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