I worked for the Church a number of times, and I've always said - NEVER AGAIN!
I've heard the same sentiment echoed by a number of men (hmm, men, curious - I'll explain that one in a sec). The bottom line is, despite its social teachings, the Church hardly ever pays a living wage, a family, living wage. And you are often times being employed by priests who have no idea the time-commitment of family life. They often just think you are not as committed as they are to the work of the Church. So it's a problem of economics here. But, I don't think the solution to this problem is simply for the lay faithful to start giving more money, to tithe. Yes, it is a problem of faith - a lack thereof - and that's why there isn't usually enough money to go around - but it is also a problem with the structure of the parishes themselves. Priests often treat their parish like their private fiefdom, so more money wouldn't necessarily translate into respectable wages for its lay employees. It might translate into any given number of things, not necessarily better wages. And, since they are not trained to run small businesses, why would we expect otherwise?
This is a problem of the evangelical effectiveness of the parish. There are a lot of highly trained, faithful lay-people out there (not the ones who went to school in the 80s) who would be a definite asset to the work of the local church, but they have families, and expensive educations that require a certain wage. So what does the Church get - lay women who work full time hours for part time pay, because they can afford to since they are not the sole wage-earner. So the Church is perpetuating an injustice. It is an injustice against the family, and an exploitation of those women. And, I hate to say it, but some of these heroic women are victims of abuse. Their generosity and love of the Church are being exploited by these priests - usually unwittingly on both sides. I have met a number of these women who fit the profile of abused wife of the priest. They are taken for granted, and allow themselves to be so, not because of economic need but because of emotional need. They feel empty and want to please.
I'm not going to put down the work they do - again, they do way more than they are paid for - but I will point to another problem with this whole situation. Evangelical ineffectiveness. Women know their place, men do not, and I, for one, am glad these men do not. Men are made to be powerful leaders - and that is what the Church needs. These obliging (usually older) women directors of religious education, or what have you, do not rock any body's boat, well, certainly not father's! Men are made to be leaders - and the priest hates that! How often have I witnessed insecurity in people with positions of leadership, not just priests, but all over the place. The Church is not a meritocracy. The priest did very little to earn his absolutely secure job, and this might mean that he is a small man who has no interest in being shown-up. He didn't have to earn his position of responsibility (celibacy isn't payment for anything, by the way; no one owes you anything because you have decidedly to live chastely - all Christians have to live chastely), and he might, in fact, be less qualified than various of his parishioners to hold this responsibility. Since he never fought to get where is his, it's highly unlikely that he's going to be interested in proving his worth now! On the other hand, in the Church, a lay person must earn every bit of recognition and responsibility he gets, through years of study and years of grubnt work. It's safer for father avoid uncomfortable comparison to highly dynamic lay people by not hiring any. The layman takes a great risk in entering even this underpaid position: the ministry of the laity is so fragile, since it can be suspended at the whim of the priest who really answers to no one in terms of staffing.
So we have a significant problem, then. We have this JP II Generation formed up in the enthusiasm of the New Evangelization, but to find what? That after youth groups, NET, and Steubenville the Church has no interest in their ministry? This is a problem. Of course, you could say that the place of the laity is in the world and the place of the priesthood is in the Church - and there is some truth in this, but it's not a complete answer. Do you really think that these young people who have done so much effective hands-on work in NET, for instance, think that they are going to find reading at mass every second Sunday a fulfillment of what they understood to be their baptismal calling? No, they have been trained to witness with public speaking, with words and deeds in front of others. Many get on doing valuable work teaching in Catholic schools, they become experts in business ethics, in NFP, in journalism, some, in fact, become deacons and actually preach in church.
A better sense of the history of the Church would be of value here. For one, it was never the case that the priests ran the church and the lay people were in the world, and it is not the case that the opposite of Catholic hierarchy is caesaro-papism (or rather, Lutheran congregationalism). Lay people have often been front and centre in the work of the Church. Think of Origen, the greatest teacher until Augustine, who was only later ordained to the priesthood. Think of the million great medieval kings and queens and their countless underlings. Think of Frederick Ozanam, never ordained, think of the myriad number of lay-witnesses martyred for Christ in this generation. I think that when we put things into this antagonistic either/or framework, we miss that the best state is when everyone is doing what they have been gifted with.
The Problem of Faith and the Parish
I quickly learned that the reason why lay people are so poorly paid is that the people do not give very generously, and why would they since their faith is so weak? The problem is that the Church is ministering to people who use the Church at their own convenience; it means so very little to them. These often give $1 a week to the Church. Even a thousand people giving a dollar is not enough to run a parish. Usually the burden of running the parish is carried by a few dozen of the very faithful. Since the qualified and energized lay faithful are kept from exercising dynamic ministry in the Church, faith rarely grows. The whole program of evangelizing sits in the hands of one man, the priest. My solution once again, is to concentrate resources on the faithful alone: close 1/2 of the parishes, do not marry 2/3rds of the people you are; don't open a church unless the people are going to support it sufficiently - and this means maying lay-evangelists living family wages.
Education and Meritocracy
The Church has always been a meritocracy, actually (thought I said the opposite above). This is the old dialectic between office and charism. Both interpenetrate each other, as they ought to. Let me prove it if there is any doubt. How is God's will discerned in the Church? Usually on the principle that grace builds on nature. Why are certain men made priests, bishops, while not others? It's not by inscrutable mystical inspiration. Hard facts are usually indicated for the selections made - or rather they should be. Should someone be deputed a responsibility for which they are unsuited? No. Even when someone is told, you cannot give yourself a vocation to the priesthood - it is the Church calls you, what they are saying in effect is that you are lacking something obvious. It might not be intellect or faith, but it is something. Sometimes this is disguised as a mystical thing, but discernment is usually very concrete. I think it is a sin against the Holy Ghost to make it look like more than it is. 'We discerned that you don't have a vocation', means that we think you are a dysfunctional weirdo. In other words, the priestly vocation is based on merit. Same with the episcopal.
The teaching vocation is merit-based, as are all the ministries. Marriage too is merit-based.
All this being said, is it consistent to gravely depart from this at the parish-level? I'll let you think of examples. I'll just provide one: the deacon is a better preacher than the pastor; he is a better financial manager and people manager. Why, then, does everything sit in the hands of the less qualified person? Is the bishop making bad decisions here, putting the greater responsibility in the hands of the lesser leader? Or is Canan Law to blame? Or, is it just custom?
More on education and meritocracy. Let me reiterate: the Church has always been a meritocracy, it just doesn't know it... The problem presented us today is this, which we are loath to follow tradition in. Education equals qualification, at least it did in the Ancient and Medieval Church. Educated people were given positions of responsibility - Marxists would tend to say rich people did - but the fact is, wealth and education usually go hand-in-hand. In the Middle Ages a cleric was one who could read.
All of that meant that a minister of the Church never had to justify his position of leadership. I was reading a couple of St. Augustine's homilies last night thinking about that - who would ever question his right to preach! But today a leader in the Church should justify his right. You can't have it both ways, can you? - I was chosen by God to be a priest / I was educated and therefore have the ability. I tend to think that a great deal of a priest's unique education comes from the fact that he alone gets to hear confessions. But this does not rule-out the psychologist, etc. Fr. Groeschel isn't good because he's a priest. He is good because he is a gifted psychologist, I would argue. Yes, the grace of ordination confers special aptness but it does not make up for every deficiency, and it does not mean that in all the world that it is a priest who is the best listener, preacher, guide, teacher. He has the authority to forgive sins, and confect the Holy Eucharist. Just like in marriage, just because you have the grace of the sacrament of matrimony doesn't mean you'll actually be a good husband. And, yes, I was made to be Anne-Marie's husband and when I am cooperating with grace I will be the best husband possible to her, but nothing guarantees that this will actually come to pass. I have the right to be her husband, just like this priest has the right to be this church's pastor, but this does not say anything about the efficacy thereof. Does not a bishop have the right to make and remove pastors? Does he not then have the right to confer responsibility in proportion to merit? These are question that need to be looked at. Well educated and faithful lay people of today should not be asked to defer to a lesser charism. Is that not the hallmark of a dysfunctional entity?
It's easy to put the blame on "liberal lay people." Yes, there are a lot of them. But in the end, that's a great way to avoid treating the real problem. That's how we understood it in the seminary - uppity lay people. Generally that was the case even as late as in the mid 90s. Things have changed significantly since then, and the chaff has been to a large extend sloughed-off (mixed metaphor?) since then. Bishops are becoming Catholic, new priests are too, the remaining laity are there because they believe. The radicals of the 60s to the 80s are retiring and giving up. More and more, people who are 'in' the Church - working for it and volunteering to serve Her - are of good quality. Some are of exceptional quality.
And then the defensive cleric might say - who are you to judge this exceptional quality?