While many Roman Catholic churches ask for donations for masses, others have specific price lists for different services, from baptisms to masses in memory of the dead – a practice the Holy See severely frowns upon.
It is not uncommon for priests in Italy to charge hundreds of euros for a wedding, baptism or other ceremony – and some Italian churchgoers say there have also been cases where priests have asked for money to allow a divorce.
“Our priest asked for 300 euros for the wedding. We gave 400, as it expected that you give more than asked,” said Lucia D, a newlywed living in the southern province of Bari, who said this was “not at all unusual”.
But priests shouldn't be charging for mass at all, the Vatican has warned.
In new guidelines for parishes, which remind priests in Italy and elsewhere of existing laws, it stressed “the need not to 'commercialise'” masses or “give the impression that the celebration of the Sacraments… are subject to tariffs”.
“An offering, by its very nature, must be a free act on the part of the one offering… not a 'price to pay' or a 'fee to exact', as if dealing with a sort of 'tax',” it said.
Pope Francis in Rome. File photo: AFP
And though in some countries offerings during mass are the only source of income for priests, it “earnestly recommends” they celebrate mass “even if they have not received an offering”.
The reminder comes despite the church suffering a financial fallout from the coronavirus. The Vatican's finance minister warned in May that the closure of museums and axing of fundraising events would see takings drop up to 45 percent.
The church is also grappling with fewer priests and an outdated parish model which it said needed urgent reform.
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