17 May 2010

Employee or contractor?

One of the happy benefits of this blog is that it brings me in contact with people who often have a different view or take than I do. One of my regular readers and I do not always see eye to eye, but we generally are able to have a good discussion nonetheless and for this I am grateful.

Reader Steve raised an excellent question in the com box of my post on a recent AP article when he asked, "Father, if bishops are not employed by the Vatican, how is it that the Vatican ... has the right to appoint a bishop, remove a bishop or limit his authority ... or accept his resignation?"

In such cases we have to go with federal (and perhaps state) law. By analogy, we can use the example of the relationship of priests to their bishops.

Under federal tax law (as it has been explained to me), priests are neither employees of the Diocese nor of the Bishop but are, rather, "independent contractors." Such is the case even though the Bishop appoints a priest to a parish and can remove him at will and even though - in this Diocese, at least - I cannot spend more $5,000 of parish funds on a single expenditure without permission of the Bishop. A pastor takes an oath of office and reports to his Bishop, but he still is not an employee of the Bishop under federal law. I cannot be away from my parish for more than a week without informing my Bishop and if I am away from my parish for more than a month I must seek his permission. All this proves McMurry's argumentation false; using his arguments, a Bishop would not be an employee of the Pope or of the Vatican under federal law.

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