Dioceses in Leeds and York said the Church of England’s 12,000 parishes and dioceses operated as independent charities and were moving towards implementing the living wage standard of £7.85 an hour - but it was not possible to say how many had achieved it.
The Church was responding to newspaper coverage criticising the church for advertising posts for more than a pound less than £7.85 an hour.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has admitted the revelations re “embarrassing”.
However, Justin Welby said the church had been clear the “move towards” having the Living Wage paid across all parishes, cathedrals and diocese was a gradual process.
The Archbishop dealt head-on with a story on the frontpage of The Sun that Canterbury and Lichfield Cathedrals were offering posts under the living wage, which is £7.85 an hour outside London.
Referring to a pastoral letter issued to parishes last week by the church’s House of Bishops, he drew attention to the passages it contained calling for the Living Wage to be adopted.
“We talked about the need to move towards that, and Archbishop of York John Sentamu carefully said that we need to move towards paying the Living Wage,” he said.
“The ‘move towards’ bit got left out, and The Sun points out that Canterbury and Lichfield Cathedrals are advertising for a post, paying below the Living Wage.”
He added: “It’s embarrassing, of course, I won’t say otherwise.
“But in the light of transparency, which I welcome, I will say we are a complex institution and every parish church and cathedral is an independent charity, as is every diocese.
“We don’t have a centralised method of control.
“I’m not very keen on centralised control where, from far away, you tell people what to do.”
He said change to a living wage would come “gradually”, because each of the independent charities lacked the resources to move more quickly.
“As charity they have to do that gradually,” he said.
“You’ll see that - and you’ll see the accusations of hypocrisy, but make up your own mind as to what it is.”
A church spokeswoman in Yorkshire admitted it was not possible to say if individual parishes paid staff a Living Wage as there are hundreds, each an independent charity. Many staff are unpaid volunteers.
Bishop of Leeds Nick Baines said: “The employees of the Diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales are all paid at least the living wage, as are the vast majority of those employed by the Church of England’s central institutions (and all will be by April 2017).
“Each of the Church of England’s 12,000 parishes is an independent charity (as are dioceses and cathedrals) and the Bishops’ letter encouraged all churches to implement the living wage as soon as is practically possible, recognising that for some that will need to happen progressively.”
A national spokesman said each parish “is a separate legal entity and has to act in the light of its own circumstances.”