On the occasion of introducing the membership fee in our Diocese
Dear sisters and brothers!
When I was still studying in the seminary, I thought that money was not an important matter for the Church. God’s Word could be announced, I thought, without material means, just as Jesus Christ did. Since then I have learned that to fulfil its mission, the Church needs a minimum of material means. To celebrate the liturgy, above all the Holy Mass, we must have churches, chapels and parish houses. We need hosts, wine and candles; the church buildings need electricity, water and heating. We can not function without a parish office that has a phone, fax, computer and register. Furthermore, our priests have to travel hundreds of kilometres in order to visit regularly the Catholics in the Diaspora. All that costs money. As published in FIDES this is no small sum as life in Finland is rather expensive.
Where does this money come from? Until now, we have received slightly more than the half the amount from Germany. In the past, we have also received a part from the Dutch province of the Sacred Heart priests. You – the Catholics in Finland – donate approximately one sixth of the sum through the collections in the parishes. This covers in part the running costs of the parishes. The other part is paid for by the Diocese. Finally, a third part comes from rents, interests and – even though not very often – from inheritances. But the situation has begun to change.
Before I address that, let me say a word about the economic situation of the priests. The priests who work in our Diocese have been supported in part by donations from abroad and to a smaller degree by the parishes. This support includes housing, clothing and food, as well as a minimum of personal items. None of our priests gets a salary for his work. This also holds for the bishop. Practically everything I have, I brought with me from Poland. The money I earn by working as a professor in Lublin for some weeks is sufficient to cover my personal expenses.
An important contribution comes from the members of the Neocatechumenate in Italy. They have financed the major part of the church in Oulu and are now completely financing the seminar for priests Redemptoris Mater.
As I have already mentioned above, more than half of the budget is covered by money from Germany. Unfortunately, this support is decreasing slowly, but surely. This is not because the charitable organizations do not want to help us. They simply can not because their resources are diminishing. Not only is the number of Catholics in Germany decreasing, but Germany is also experiencing unemployment and low incomes. This is why collections and church taxes there have also diminished.
We should not expect that assistance from Germany will increase again in the future. We simply have to take better care of our Church. I am convinced that it is possible to become economically more independent. Catholics in Finland are not really poorer than Catholics in Germany. We must not forget that the donations from Germany do not come mainly from rich people, but from ordinary people with middle class incomes.
Last year, the economic council, the priestly council, the bishop’s council and the pastoral council have systematically focussed on this problem. None of these bodies have seen a realistic alternative to membership fee. An estimate has been made on the amount of the fee, and the decision resulted in 1.5 per cent of the income of Catholics.
Such an amount is not an exception in the life of our local churches. Here in Finland, according to the law all Lutheran and Orthodox Christians pay church taxes that vary from one to two per cent according to parish. But also the members of other communities are morally obliged to support their own church in a similar way. It is common that in small communities the contribution fee is relatively high.
Catholics in Denmark pay a voluntary church tax of two per cent of their income. In Iceland, all churches are supported directly by the state on an equal basis from taxes paid by every citizen. In Norway, the system is more or less similar. In the year 2000, the Catholic Church in Sweden has obtained the right to church taxes. Church taxes are also paid in Germany and Italy, for instance. In Finland, our Church has applied officially for being granted the possibility of levying Church tax, but this has been denied.
Dear sisters and brothers! I don’t want to quote the Codex of Canon Law and the fifth Church Commandment of the Catechism in order to show that every Catholic has an obligation in conscience to support his Church. It is anything but a matter of enriching the Church or luxury, rather it’s about obtaining the minimum in order for the Church to function. The membership fee will be used in the following way: it will cover all the expenses that the parishes can not take care of entirely themselves. In addition it will support the necessary renovations, office machines for the Information Centre, the Catechetical Centre, Stella Maris, the diocesan Curia (Bishop’s office), for the theological studies of our priest candidates, children’s summer camps, and for maintaining the priests in our Diocese who do not belong to any community, and finally for a car for each parish. These are only the most important issues.
It must be said very clearly that the membership fee does not replace the Sunday mass collections. The aim of both membership fee and the collections is quite different. While the collections are destined for supporting the everyday life and activities of the parish, the membership fee will be destined to cover the more extensive expenses as in the above mentioned tasks which a single parish is incapable of financing alone.
I want to ask you, dear sisters and brothers, to think over this issue in a calm and responsible way and to accept this solution that is also supported by the different aforementioned councils. At stake is our Church, your Church. Without the membership fee, our local Church can not grow, but rather begin to diminish.
+ Józef Wrobel SCJ
Bishop of Helsinki
Letter of the Bishop of Helsinki to all Catholics on the occasion of introducing the membership fee in our Diocese
Dear brothers and sisters,
On September 26th that was read in all churches on that day I have addressed you with the invitation to contribute to financing the Diocese by paying a regular membership fee of 1,5% of your monthly income. This letter is published on the internet page of our Diocese in Finnish, Swedish, English and some other languages (www.catholic.fi/hiippakunta/maksu), whence I need not repeat myself here. Before I come to another point, I would like to express, by this letter, my heartfelt thanks and recognition to all of you, who have supported our local Church with their prayer, work and money.
In my pastoral letter I have stressed that the membership fee is something entirely different from the Sunday collections. While the collections support the activities of the parish, the membership fee supports the whole Diocese and therefore all those services from which all the parishes benefit without being able to finance them, like the Catechetical Centre, the Information Centre, the studies of the priest candidates, etc. I would like to appeal once more to your generosity in supportimg these services that are of vital importance to our Church.
Finally I’d like to address a practical issue. In my pastoral letter I have spoken simply of ”income” in the context of the membership fee, because I did not want to enter into technical details. As an annex to this letter you will find some precisions and instructions.
Helsinki, September 27th, 2004
+ Józef Wróbel SCJ
Bishop of Helsinki