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VATICAN LETTER Aug-14-2009 (830 words) xxxi

Justice starts at home: Vatican job norms reflect church teaching

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his new encyclical that efficiency and profit cannot be the only things motivating an ethical employer, he was speaking for himself as well.

The Vatican published the encyclical "Caritas in Veritate" ("Charity in Truth") July 7, the same day the pope signed the new statutes of the Labor Office of the Holy See.

The office was established 20 years ago, at a time when Vatican lay employees publicized labor grievances and threatened work stoppages. New salary structures were introduced and the Labor Office functioned as an arbitration and mediation service for employees with grievances.

In the first few years of its existence, the office handled about 400 cases each year, said Massimo Bufacchi, who recently was named director of the Labor Office.

Bufacchi told the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, that the serious complaints have all but ended, so the statutes have the office focusing more on promoting the professional and spiritual development of the employees and creating a work environment marked by justice, equality and "authentic respect for the human dignity of each collaborator."

The Vatican's employment practices and the work environment have to reflect church teaching that "the value of human labor is not the type of work that is done, but the fact that the person doing it is a human being," he said in the interview published Aug. 8.

In the Vatican, the thing that gets a bit tricky is that in most offices there are laypeople, clerics and religious working side by side and they have different needs and obligations outside the office that can impact their work life. A lay employee may need time off when a child or spouse is sick, while a member of a religious order may need time off to participate in his or her order's general chapter.

Bufacchi is most proud of the Vatican's efforts to assist Vatican employees with their family obligations.

"The norms that recently have entered into force are very advanced in terms of provisions for the family," he said.

In addition to generous maternity leave, the Vatican gives a bonus to mothers or fathers when a new baby is born. The bonus is equal to two-thirds of the employee's monthly salary and, obviously, doubles if the mother has twins. If both parents work for the Vatican, the bonus is based on the salary of the person earning more.

The Vatican also has a schedule of family allowances based on total family income and the employee's number of dependents -- a spouse, children, a person with disabilities. Also according to household income, there are additional allowances for day care and a special annual contribution toward the expense of schoolbooks, which Italian parents purchase even for children attending state schools.

The Vatican's new-child bonus extends to an employee adopting a child under age 6 and there is a special allowance to help cover costs incurred by employees who travel to countries outside Italy for adoptions.

According to information released with the annual Vatican budget figures in July, the Vatican employs 4,626 people, at least 1,150 of whom do not benefit from the family-friendly policies because they are priests, religious brothers or religious sisters.

The figures show that just under 18 percent of the workforce is female -- 715 laywomen and 116 nuns -- but Bufacchi said that is 5 percent more than the ratio five years ago.

Laypeople far outnumber priests and religious at offices belonging to the government of Vatican City, which include the Vatican newspaper, Vatican Radio, the Vatican Museums, the Vatican Gardens and the Vatican health care service.

Laymen also outnumber priests and religious working in Vatican congregations and councils, but not overwhelmingly.

The Labor Office publishes the base salary schedules for Vatican employees, with the exception of the prefects, presidents, secretaries and undersecretaries of the congregations and councils and the directors of other Vatican offices.

The starting salaries for the lower-level employees range from the equivalent of about $1,690 a month to about $2,680 a month. The figure increases with each year of service. In addition, Vatican salaries are tax-free, many employees live in Vatican-owned apartments where they pay below-market rents, they can shop at the Vatican's discount supermarket and they are fully covered by the Vatican's own health service.

And while Italian politicians, labor unions and other groups have spent months arguing over whether to set a common retirement age for women and men -- currently the Italian age is 60 for women and 65 for men -- the Vatican already treats men and women the same.

Currently lay men and women working at the Vatican retire when they are 65; priests and religious retire at 70, and bishops, archbishops and cardinals at 75.

The new provisions adopted by Pope Benedict in April stipulate that, beginning with employees hired in 2010, the retirement age will rise to 67 for laity and 72 for priests and religious. Prelates will continue to retire at 75.

END


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