In the Heartland With Bishop Pates: The Father Jim Kiernan Initiative

by Bishop Pates | June 24, 2019

Bishop Pates

Bishop Richard Pates, upon the positive recommendations of the Presbyteral and Finance Councils of the Diocese of Des Mones, establishes as Diocesan Policy for all parishes, schools and institutions of the Diocese of Des Moines effective July 1, 2019, “The Father Jim Kiernan Initiative: Guiding Principles on Compensation.”

Father Jim Kiernan had scheduled appointment with me a few days after he died on May 15, 2016.  His purpose was to advocate a living wage for all employees in our Catholic parishes, schools and other operations in the Diocese of Des Moines.null

This advocacy was assumed by his nephew, Peter Kiernan, and Father Dave Polich.  Consultation was conducted with the Diocesan Presbyteral Council as well as the Diocesan Finance Council.  The outcome was a document entitled “Guiding Principles on Compensation.”  It was approved by both councils and recommended to me for implementation.

With this communication, I call for the full adoption of these principles by each parish and school by July 1, 2019.  As a full commitment to this aspect of social justice, all of us Catholics desire that those who serve us be accorded the dignity that is theirs by providing just wages.  Moreover, through this initiative, we are desirous of bringing a moral witness to the broader society.

The aspirational goal is to move toward paying church workers a minimum of $15/hour.  Finding it important to model this goal, the Diocese of Des Moines, with the exception of a high school worker, has achieved this minimum rate among our lay employees. Our particular focus these last 10 years, at the diocese, has been to steadily upgrade the compensation scale for those at the lower end of the pay range.  To some degree, this has been achieved by our reaching the minimum $15 pay scale.  We are committed to continue moving forward in this direction so that our valuable employees can provide for themselves and their families.

nullThis initiative also embraces those employees who serve our institutions on a contracted basis.  Father Kiernan felt compelled to take up the cause of decent pay for them when he learned of the grossly insufficient wage of a person who was employed by a contractor in service of an institution in which he lived.  He personally benefited from the assistance of the worker.

I am fully aware that these new regulations may require additional generosity and some initial strain on finances.  The Diocese of Des Moines, though, has been blessed by extraordinary generosity.  The aggregate parish income has grown by 32% since 2010.  Thus, ostensibly, there are some available funds to address the issue of compensation.

All of us want to do what is necessary to provide resources for our Church employees that recognize their dignity and value.  I am grateful to Father Jim Kiernan and subsequently to his nephew Peter and Father Dave Polich for faithfully pursuing the justice which should characterize our institutions.  Further applause is directed to the Finance Council of the Diocese of Des Moines and its Presbyteral Council for developing and espousing church financial practices that will achieve these goals.

I feel privileged and fortunate to establish “The Father Jim Kiernan Initiative” as policy for the Diocese of Des Moines.


Diocese of Des Moines

Father Jim Kiernan Initiative

Guiding Principles on Compensation

Opening Thought:

    • Teresa of Avila – “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”


Since its establishment by Christ, the Catholic Church has been called to preach the gospel to all people, inviting them to walk in ways of faith within the Christian community.  The charge to preach the gospel brings with it the responsibility to live and give witness to the gospel, being responsive to the basic human rights of people, among which are the right to employment and just wages.

  1.  Every employee has a right to a just compensation that provides for the ordinary needs of workers.  These include not only the bare necessities like food, shelter, clothing, and health care, but also other items to permit a person to live in dignity.
  2. All persons also have a right to security in the event of sickness, disability, unemployment, and old age. 
  3.  The dignity of workers requires adequate health care, healthful working conditions, weekly rest, periodic holidays, vacation for recreation/leisure and reasonable security against arbitrary dismissal.
  4. It is only in the context of Christian stewardship that the Catholic Church can realize its responsibility for just compensation of its employees.  Stewardship also implies that the local community exercise sound management and fiscal responsibility (e.g. development of a budget) of the resources to which it has been entrusted and communicate through transparency.
  5. Compensation packages are in response to the economic conditions and cost of living in an area, as determined by reviewing external criteria available from public and private sources.  In addition, these packages are non-discriminatory and consistent with teachings of the Catholic Church including current federal, state, and IRS regulations and guidelines.
  6. Compensation is ordinarily determined through the application of the Catholic Church’s social teachings, basing one’s compensation upon educational level, experience, level of competence of the individual, and assigned responsibilities as these relate to the position.
Bishop Pates

Since his installation on May 29, 2008, Bishop Pates' priorities have been to build up an inviting vocation culture, reach out to newcomers and the Spanish-speaking community, educate and experience evangelization, and to engage youth and young adults as vibrant and valued members of the faith community.