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The Church’s lay workforce : Employment in the French Catholic Church - C. Béraud

Céline Béraud
CNRS–Ehess, centre d’études interdisciplinaires des faits religieux, 10, rue Monsieur-le-Prince, 75006 Paris, France

Available online 12 November 2008 on ScienceDirect

Faced with an ongoing shortage of priests, bishops have assigned permanent religious duties to several thousand laypersons, most of them women. Many have employment contracts. Employment arrangements for this new type of permanent personnel tend to be unfavorable : limited-time assignments (limited to a few years), despite the fact that they have permanent open-ended contracts ; part-time work ; a wage near the minimum. Various factors account for this vulnerability : the dire financial straits of French dioceses ; ecclesiastic authorities’ determination to present the clergy as the Church’s only fully legitimate permanent personnel ; the attitude of the laypersons themselves, who seem satisfied with their situation. Efforts to institutionalize their employment situation run into difficulties with respect to both the French labor code and the unexpected effects produced internally by promotion of a culture of temporary commitment.

Keywords : Clergy ; Lay church worker ; Vocation ; Commitment ; Employment contract ; Atypical ; Catholic Church ; France

Article Outline

  • 1. The Church’s “intermittent” workers
    • 1.1. An unfavorable employment situation
    • 1.2. Fitting together canon law and the national labor code : the difficulties created by a dual allegiance system
    • 1.3. A “counterexample” of unstable employment with several unintended consequences
  • 2. Why this vulnerable employment status ?
    • 2.1. Material and organizational difficulties
    • 2.2. Fear of a zero-sum game that will work to the disadvantage of priests
    • 2.3. The active acquiescence of permanent lay workers : disqualification of the conflict and “distanced involvement”
  • 3. Is this intermittent employment situation in the process of being institutionalized ?
    • 3.1. A will to institutionalize the situation
      • 3.1.1. Assimilating their situation to other codified atypical jobs ?
      • 3.1.2. Voluntary association-worker status ?
      • 3.1.3. Surrendering the idea of “public order” ?
    • 3.2. The unexpected ad intra effects of promoting a culture of committing oneself “for a time”
  • 4. Conclusion
  • References

Sociologie du Travail
Volume 50, Supplement 1, December 2008, Pages e66–e82
Translation Amy Jacobs