Monday, August 15

Galician priests charge surcharges for weddings and funerals despite the Church’s attempt to put a stop to it

The price of Catholic masses, weddings and funerals is assessed. Following the indications of the Episcopal Conference, the five Galician dioceses unified the rates six years ago and, formally, no faithful should pay more than what is established in the table of “offerings and parish rates”, in force since March 2014, for the celebration of a mass in memory of a deceased (10 euros), a marriage or funeral (in both cases, a minimum of 110 euros with a single priest and a sacristan). Those decrees, available to all parishioners and accessible on archbishopric web pages, set the “ceilings” for Masses, weddings and funerals. But in practice, they are usually considered minimum rates, and are applied “from there up”, acknowledges a consulted parish priest. As the Church considers them “donations”, each pastor is free to charge whatever he wants for these services, regardless of any fiscal control or ecclesiastical authorities. And there are many who ask for surcharges for administering the sacraments at the time of getting married or being buried, or simply celebrating a homily for a deceased. Burial fees are often high and outrageous.

Until last spring, on the Costa da Morte, funeral services cost from 180 to 500 euros, depending on the priest who played, according to funeral homes consulted by In the Coruña region of Barbanza, they exceeded, on average, 200 euros, double the “maximum” rate set by the Galician Church. And they were payments “in hand”, without invoice. In Pontevedra, the Alianza y Barros funeral home reported up to six priests to the Archdiocese of Santiago for their surcharges and demand to be paid in cash, regardless of any control. In the city of A Coruña, it is common practice to show the family the official rate table and tell them to contribute whatever they want.

Everything changed in April, with the digital portal that the Galician dioceses established so that the funeral homes, in charge of agreeing with the parish priests to celebrate the funerals, pay the funerals via bank transfer, in accordance with the rates established by the ecclesiastical authorities. For lifting the corpse and driving it to the church or the cemetery, 20 euros; 40 euros for attendance and application of the mass; 25 euros for the sacristan and the same for the use of the temple. A minimum of 110 euros, which is increased by 30 euros for each parish priest who attends the funeral. A revolution that was not well received by the majority of Galician priests. There was a lot of internal protest at having to give up collecting cash and stick to official stipends. A group of parish priests from the Costa da Morte came to threaten the Archbishopric with hanging up their habits if they were prevented from continuing, as they have done before, collecting whatever they wanted by hand. In other parishes of A Coruña, meetings with Santiago were requested in writing to try to negotiate. But without success. Telematic and declared payment of funerals has become widespread, as confirmed by funeral homes. Although there are still priests who go directly to the families of the deceased, especially if they do not have a death policy that covers the always large funeral bill, to ask them to pay them directly in cash and without a receipt.

“The system is positive, the table of rates is applied in general, it works very well,” congratulates the head of communication for the Archdiocese of Santiago, Manuel Blanco. Parish priest in Ames (A Coruña), recognizes that before the electronic payment was established, there were abuses and many surcharges. “It depends on the moral of each one, abuses happen as in any field, and since there was previously a material void to pay for services, it was easier to screw up,” he justifies. Blanco assures that “in the last season” the collection of surcharges for the celebration of funerals ceased. The telematic payment was established in order to order and make the accounts and income of the Church more transparent, he stresses. And he affirms that, three months later, the protests of the priests stopped. “It was a resistance typical of novelty and adjusting to the times, it is always difficult to do things by computer.”

However, the director of the Archbishop’s Media Office points out that priests are authorized to continue to collect “in hand” and without fiscal control for Masses, weddings and funerals if they so wish “families who ask to round up” rates stipulated in order to “make a donation to the Church.” Baptisms are not formally listed among the religious services for which a priest can charge money. “It is at the will of the family,” says Blanco. And in the case of weddings, the minimum fee is always higher for larger expenses, such as cleaning or floral decorations of the temple.

Funeral homes consulted by this newspaper confirmed that the surcharges for funerals were reduced. “The faucet was cut off a bit, but with the Church we have to walk with leaden feet, they can make our day to day very difficult and, although it does not have the power of before, they continue to have it,” says the spokesperson for a Coruña-based company funeral parlour. There are priests that continue to accept the telematic payment adjusted to the rates set by the dioceses only if the deceased had a death policy. Otherwise, the families of these parishes are called to continue paying in cash and without invoice what the parish priest asks of them.

In any case, the Galician Church ignores what Pope Francis preaches, strongly opposed to charging the faithful “for receiving the sacraments, marrying them, baptizing them or giving them their first communion” or for a Catholic funeral. “The mass is not paid, it is the sacrifice of Christ, which is free, the redemption is free. If you want to make an offering, you do it, but you don’t pay.” The decree of the Galician dioceses that sets the “ceilings” for Masses, weddings and funerals contradicts the Vatican’s boss: it justifies that “the Church, in order to carry out its pastoral and evangelizing mission, needs financial means that must come from the community members “.

The Galician priests are a very minority who, like the parish priest of Xestoso, in Monfero, Ferrol region, refuse to collect money, as the Pope recommends, for masses for the dead, weddings and baptisms. And it only charges the funeral if it is paid for by the deceased’s insurance.