Pay to Pray: The Church's Simony Problem
by Jeffrey A. Tucker
The Catholic Church in the English-speaking world has a serious problem, and it is becoming ever more apparent in the digital age: It maintains a copyright on its ritual texts and charges royalties for printing and distributing them, while admitting only narrow exceptions.
The Catholic Church is alone among major denominations in using this pay-to-pray method of financing. The texts of Episcopal, Lutheran, and Orthodox Churches are in the public domain, and free for anyone to print under any conditions. This encourages publishers to disseminate the texts, composers to use them for setting music, and Web site builders and bloggers to quote them freely in any form.
I've contacted many leaders in these other denominations concerning this practice of maintaining public access to the texts, and, without exception, they found the inquiry to be an odd one. If the mission of the Church is to spread the gospel and evangelize for the faith, what possible rationale could there be for charging for the right to publish the ritual?
That's a question that might be asked of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that authorizes them to hold the copyright to the Missal texts. After all, the Mass text isn't like the latest Harry Potter novel, the product of a single author published by a profit-making book seller. It is a text to an indulgenced religious activity that is required by the Faith itself. Presumably its "liturgical author" is not a single earthly institution.
February 11, 2009