Membership Fee: A concrete way of supporting the Church
In the last six months we adult Catholics who live and work in Finland and are registered in the parish have received two letters: the first one from our Bishop Teemu and our parish priest, the second one a few weeks ago was sent in the name of the Finance Committee of our Diocese. We are asked, to the best of our possibility, to support the Church by paying the Membership fee. I do not intend to repeat the content of these letters, but I do try to clarify some important issues in the background.
The Church is our spiritual family
Being a Catholic is a gift from God and we should be proud of it. It is to be part of this ”spiritual family”, the Catholic Church, a family that is constituted, not for reasons of race, culture or nation, but by supernatural bonds: we are the family of God on earth.
As in any family, also in the Church each one – according to his/her possibilities – is called to give the best of him/herself for the good of all. In this way, everyone contributes and everyone benefits. Nobody is enough to him/herself. The same as the others need my contribution, I also need the service of others. Without a doubt, by helping the Church, we all win.
The Church takes care of the spiritual and material needs of her children and, also, of those who are not linked to her and accept her service. This is what the Church does: caring and dealing with the spiritual and material needs of the people. Therefore, we can affirm that directly and indirectly, with her spiritual and social-charitable action, the Church contributes to create a better society.
Material resources are necessary
To help the Church, to collaborate with the Church, is to respond to the need of the Church for economic means to carry out her mission. For Catholics this is a duty. ”The fifth commandment states that the faithful are obliged to help, each according to his/her possibility, to the material needs of the Church” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2043). This is clearly stated in the Code of Canon Law (the norms that govern the internal life of the Church): ”The faithful have the duty to help the Church in her needs, so that she has what is necessary for the divine worship, apostolic and charitable works and the suitable sustenance of the ministers. They also have the duty to promote social justice, as well as, remembering the command of the Lord, to help the poor with their own goods ” (canon 222).
The Church needs material means to fulfill its mission, for example:
- Guarantee divine worship, which means that we need, in the first place, a proper and sustainable parish. The parish generates expenses: candles, incense, wine and water, bread, flowers, etc. – Also, the altarcloths have to be washed, the temple has to be cleaned … We have to pay for the supply of electricity, heating, plot, security, etc. They are thousands of euros per month.
- The works of apostolate and charity, attention to people in the diaspora, travel expenses, catechetical material, formation courses, the joint activities of the Diocese, website, liturgical books and other publications. Everything costs, and Finland is not a cheap country.
- The convenient sustenance of the priests. Priests are called by vocation to carry out a mission that is also work and that requires economic support: priests are people, citizens like others, who need to feed, get dressed, go to the doctor, tax for the future pension, and everything costs. The salary also guarantees their independence to be able to dedicate themselves, full time, to the attention to the Church.
The financial sources
On the economic level, the Church lives and carries out her mission thanks to the alms, donations and testaments she receives. Everything is welcome. But in Finland she also lives on the Membership fee. The status of the Catholic Church in Finland is very weak compared to other non-Catholic Churches or to the Catholic Church in other countries around the world. In Finland we are simply a religious community. In other countries the State helps the Church much more and the faithful can give money through taxes, but not here. With this status before the State there are some obligations and some rights. One right and one obligation is to raise the membership fee. This is the real and just solution to properly support the Church in Finland.
Formerly we used to say, for example, in the organization of summer-camps or the feast of the diocese or other events with many people: ”Germany (Bonifatiuswerk) pays” or ”the diocese pays” or later: ”the parish pays.” It is time to take a step forward in maturity: ”Now I am the one who wants to pay”. I am the Church, I am the parish, I am responsible for taking it forward. Of course this support is to be done according to our possibilities.
If the membership fee is collected as it is calculated then there will be no need to take drastic and painful measures that have been advised by some experts, such as closing parishes or selling the bishop’s house. The solution is in our hands.
In a few months we will know the amount collected by this new membership fee system: we will know the amount and where it is intended to. I think we have to gain transparency and one of the challenges we have is to inform better regarding the finances. With good information we gain better understanding. And this always gives good fruits.
Now I would like to share with you some doubts that have come to the bishop’s house by e-mail or by phone as a result of the January letter. I do not want to make a list of different cases but highlight some more frequent questions. It should be noted that the feed-back of the membership fee request has been generally positive because most people know what the situation is, what the problem is and what the solution is. And finally, we know what is the part that corresponds to us personally in this solution.
I would also point out that there have been many incorrect mail addresses. We intend to create a new registry before summer with real and safe information of the members of the parish. We are working on it.
Many people have expressed their concern that they cannot pay, because they are pensioners or because they do not reach the minimum of 15,000 euros per year. In the letter, there is a table where it is clearly seen who is a possible payer and what is the figure of his/her economic contribution. So if you cannot pay according to that table, do not worry, do not pay.
Others have said that they do not want to pay and therefore they want to leave the Church. They have been told that one thing is the financial help you can give through the payment of the membership fee and another thing is that by baptism you belong to the Catholic Church, regardless of whether you pay or not, or whether you go to the parish or not. The list of members who can pay the membership fee is not the same as the list of those who belong to the Church. The latter is preserved in the book of baptism. In general, in Finland the concept of ”unsubscribing from the Church” refers to economic support. Some people, by personal request, have been disenrolled from this membership fee register.
Others have asked if they should pay here if they already do it in their countries of origin. They have been answered that the Church is universal but located in a specific place. If you live and work in Finland, your Church is located in Finland. It is not prohibited to send money to the Church of origin, but for those living in Finland the Catholic Church means your parish in Finland. And this parish of yours in Finland needs your financial help. So if you have to choose, the most reasonable thing is for you to help your parish in Finland.
I want to finish these lines by thanking everyone for your understanding, your help and economic support and your prayers. All together with the our Lord Jesus Christ we make the Church in Finland.
May God bless you all for your generosity.
Fr. Raimo Goyarrola