Privileges of Ordained Ministers

Updated on March 23, 2018

Ordination sets a minister apart from the laity. With ordination comes a different role in the life of the church and a different place in society. A minister receives ordination from his church, either from an individual congregation or from a larger organization. With ordination comes a licensing that is recognized not just by the church but also by secular government agencies.


Some denominations have rituals that can only be performed by clergy. In the Roman Catholic Church, for example, only priests can say Mass. Priest are also the only ones who can hear confessions and grant absolution of sins. Similarly, in the Episcopal Church laity can lead morning and evening prayers, but only clergy can lead the Eucharist. In most churches, clergy do the bulk of the preaching.

Clergy dress in both the Catholic and Orthodox tradition has always been very different from lay fashion.
Clergy dress in both the Catholic and Orthodox tradition has always been very different from lay fashion. | Source


Not all churches use ecclesiastical dress, but those who do usually reserve certain dress for clergy. The clerical collar, for example, is worn only by ordained ministers. In some traditions, seminarians can wear a clerical collar with a black stripe down the center. But generally, a clerical collar, both the small tab collar and the circular "dog collar" marks someone who is ordained.

Catholics speak of the "seal of the confessional," which refers to the duty of the clergy never to speak of anything disclosed in the confessional.
Catholics speak of the "seal of the confessional," which refers to the duty of the clergy never to speak of anything disclosed in the confessional. | Source

Clergy Privilege

"Clergy privilege" is a legal term. It means that if a person confesses a crime to a minister or priest, that confession cannot be used against the person in any legal matter. In other words, clergy are not only required by their church to keep the contents of a confession or counseling session confidential, they are also exempt from having to testify on any matter they learned about while functioning in a private religious capacity.


States typically require that all religious wedding ceremonies by conducted by clergy. The requirements differ from state to state, but typically the minister must be ordained by a church and then must submit credentials to the state or local government. For example, in the State of Minnesota, ministers must submit copies of their ordination certificate or license to the registrar of the county in which they work. The registrar gives each minister a certificate that authorizes that minister to perform weddings



Some cities and some hospitals allow ministers special parking privileges. Typically, in these special cases, a minister may park in no-parking zones or may exceed the time limit for a parking place. New York City, for example, acknowledges that clergy sometimes have to respond to emergencies and should not have to circle the block looking for parking. Special permits displayed on the dashboard allows ministers to park illegally without being ticketed or towed.

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In the United States, clergy are allowed some special privileges when they pay their income tax. For example, if the minister gets a housing allowance, he does not have to include that housing allowance as part of his gross income for tax purposes. If the minister has an ethical or religious objection to Social Security, he can opt out. In other words, clergy don't have to pay self employment taxes if they don't want to get Social Security benefits.

Questions & Answers

  • May I use my clergy parking pass in any circumstance?

    The use of clergy parking passes is dictated by the city or county issuing the passes. Each governmental entity has its own unique criteria for its use. So the answer to your question is "it depends on where you live."

  • If government became tyrannical, what duties would ministers have?

    The easy answer is "whatever duties the government allows them." A perhaps more nuanced answer would look at recent totalitarian governments. For example, in Nazi Germany, the government tried to fold all protestant churches into the state. Clergy was expected to lend support to Nazi ideology and further the Nazi agenda. Similarly, in Italy during World War II, clergy were expected to hand over Jewish neighbors. Many resisted. Clergy rank and privileges in both countries depended on compliance. For more information: and


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