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Posted June 1, 2009

Boston Archdiocese Restricts Funds
for Retired Infirm Priests

[N.B. Read the results of the CARA Special Report on our website for more insights on how retired priests feel about retirement and the benefits they receive]

The Archdiocese of Boston, facing a clergy pension system that will run out of money in 2011 without a financial rescue, is now taking its first concrete steps to limit benefits and raise revenue to shore up the fund.

Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley's "decree of promulgation" is raising concerns among some sick priests, who fear a loss of benefits.

Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley has mailed to all priests a legalistic 17-page "decree of promulgation" that is raising concerns among some sick priests because it says that they will receive only 60 percent of their stipend, in addition to their healthcare coverage, if they are on health leave. Also in some cases it will require them to submit medical and tax documents to the archdiocese in order to "demonstrate need."

The policy also requires priests on health leave for more than six months to seek state and federal government assistance, such as Social Security Disability Insurance, which is a break from past practice.

The policy affects only the 40 priests who are currently "unassigned" because they are sick, disabled, or on a leave of absence, but it signals the archdiocese's willingness to make difficult and unpopular decisions as it attempts to address its most serious financial challenge.

Two priests on health leave expressed concerns about the policy in separate interviews last week, but neither would allow his name to be used, citing fears that the archdiocese would limit their benefits.

"The archdiocese sees priests with health issues as a burden," said one of the priests. "It's clear they don't want us."

The other priest expressed a similar concern, calling the policy an "injustice," and saying "we have a tacit agreement to be supported for our lifetime, and this really seems to pull the rug out from under us, and pushes people who are retired back into service."

But Monsignor Dennis F. Sheehan, a Newton priest who helped the archdiocese develop its new policy, defended the changes.

"You have to realize that for years the archdiocese was very generous with everybody in odd situations, so that people who were off duty for one reason or the other got full salary and benefits, and we're probably the only institution in the United States that does that without limit," he said. "But now, we find ourselves with limited resources, and the challenge is to be equitable with limited resources and to preserve the resources for the future."

Sheehan said sick priests will continue to receive "very generous" healthcare benefits, but will have a reduced stipend, and said the requirement that they submit documents to verify their illness and assets "is no more than any other American citizen is asked to do."

The Archdiocese of Boston has 480 active priests, of whom 26 are over age 75 and five are over age 80. The archdiocese also has 275 priests who do not work full time because of age or infirmity. Priests are paid between $25,000 and $35,000 a year, depending on their years of service, and receive $600 a month for housing if they do not live in a rectory. Pastors must offer to retire at age 75, but priests often continue to say Mass as long as they are able. Retired priests are given a $1,288 monthly stipend plus $600 for housing if they do not live in a rectory.

The archdiocese asserts that its benefits compare favorably with those of other Catholic dioceses around the country. And many private companies have been scaling back on support for retired workers.

The subject of clergy benefits has proven to be controversial in the archdiocese, in part because some priests and laypeople have questioned how well the archdiocese has managed the funds, and in part because, despite the abuse scandal, the idea that the church might reduce its commitment to retired and sick priests has troubled many Catholics.

O'Malley first proposed a set of benefits cuts to reduce the costs of the clergy pension plan four years ago, but quietly withdrew it after allegations, fueled by the archdiocese's own mailings to priests, that the church had failed to set aside years of Christmas and Easter contributions made by Catholics who were told those collections would support their retired clergy.

The archdiocese has repeatedly insisted the funds were properly used, but also agreed to hire an accountant to do a report on the history of the funds in an effort to assuage the concerns. That report is supposed to be published in June or July.

Archdiocesan chancellor James P. McDonough has said that there is no indication of any criminal wrongdoing. But the report is nonetheless likely to draw criticism of the archdiocese from those who believe church officials exercised too much latitude in using funds donated for retired and sick priests. Among other uses, the funds are believed to have been used in the past to support priests accused of sexual abuse. The archdiocese says that, going forward, it plans to set up a separate account to provide for accused priests, and that the account will be funded through a portion of the proceeds of the sale of the former archdiocesan headquarters property in Brighton to Boston College.

The archdiocese, in its most recent annual financial report, described the clergy pension fund as "our largest liability and most significant financial concern." The document describes the plan as underfunded by $114 million, and warns that it will run out of money in 2011 unless it is restructured. The archdiocese currently brings in $5.4 million a year from Christmas and Easter collections to support the plan, but spends $15 million a year on benefits.

"The economic realities of the day and the realities of the current fiscal position of the archdiocese have forced us to reevaluate how we address the health, welfare and retirement needs of the priests of the archdiocese," the document mailed to priests said. ". . . Health-care costs have increased exponentially; there has been an ever-declining number of vocations; while at the same time, there has been a continual and rapid increase in the average age of priests."

The new policy governing benefits for priests who are unassigned, is the first of three stages in the archdiocese's latest plan to control benefits. The next two stages will concern housing and benefits for retired priests.

At the same time that the archdiocese is trying to rein in spending on clergy benefits, it is also trying to raise money to support the benefits. The archdiocese plans next month to launch a third annual collection, in addition to the Christmas and Easter collections, to benefit the clergy funds. Also, later this year the archdiocese plans to launch a major gifts campaign to benefit the funds. And the archdiocese has appointed a new board of trustees to oversee the plan.

"We need to secure our clergy fund and make sure we meet our commitment to the health needs of our priests and our senior priests for generations to come," said the Rev. Richard M. Erikson, vicar general of the archdiocese. Erikson said the new policies are being developed after "an unprecedented process of consultation" with priests, and he said the goal is to have policies and procedures "that are fair and respect and honor the commitment of our priests in the archdiocese."


amanzola wrote:

I have a problem with this!!----Jimmy Hoffa went to jail, for the misuse of pension monies!!---Is this the case here?----besides with all the failures going on today,large auto compnies going under--who's still the richest org. in the world?---you got it right!--the Catholic Church!!---there are more treasures hanging on the walls and burried in vaults underground, that could support every church and diocese in this country----the church threw the Nuns out the door years ago, shutting down their homes,and many retirement homes,now their throwing thier retired sick,disabled priests down the same road!!---good luck in getting new priests,a problem the church has been having!!

ssjason wrote:

It's hard to take the church's supposed financial problems seriously. Everyone knows how much real estate and priceless art they own and anyone who has visited the Vatican can only marvel in awe at the opulent palaces and jewelry and art. Do these people who have taken a supposed vow of poverty think we're stupid or something? Why don't they sell one of their a gold and diamond encrusted hats to the Emir of Kuwait or something if they need a few spare zillion dollars? Or here's an idea, they could get a job and work for a living like the rest of us. They're already getting an unfair tax break, which is more than they deserve.

Tewkmanvin wrote:

Thank you, Cardinal Law. One can only wonder why Cardinal Law was allowed to flee the US without being indicted? Child perverts, lawsuits, and where was the AG's office?

1) Each diocese supports itself independently. Most of the treasures are historic patrimony and would not be allowed to be sold anyway. John Paul II sold many of the modern *treasures* to support the underfunded missions, etc.

2) These men have worked all their lives at a 24/7 *job* and deserve an old age free of financial worries. Why can't they be housed at parish rectories where they would help the pastor, in as much as they are able, and there would be someone to look out for them, much as any family functions?

3) Any priest who has been convicted of sexual abuse should lose all his rights: pension, housing, health benefits, etc.

saintpeter wrote:

And people wonder why the Catholic Religion is losing so many people ? Born and raised a Catholic, I have finally left the faith. It was just too toxic with too many questionable practices. I grew up and attended a beautiful church in Lexington that was sold a few years back. How and why are they having these financial problems ?

dgz2ctz2 wrote:

No, no, no! These guys give the church their lives and this is how they're repaid? Sell your gold goblets, your vestments, wear rags, use glass. Definitely NO to social security and state aid. Separation of church and state, remember.

Irish wrote:

Well, what are you waiting for Obama, Reid, Pelosi? Here's another batch of potential Dem voters. Bail 'em out and make sure to re-register them as Democrats. What's another million or two on your trillions of dollars budget?


"Or here's an idea, they could get a job and work for a living like the rest of us." I can't even respond 2 that comment, because I would have 2 dumb down 2 your level. U sound like a major hater and a left wing nut. BTW:I'm not a Holy Roller.

coolfusion wrote:

Good move.. cut their pensions and dump all the corrupt priests on the taxpayer. This cult of pedophiles has no shame.

QuigLewis wrote:

Don't paint the entire Catholic faith with the same brush. The problem is in THIS diocese, not world wide. There most certainly needs to be an independent audit to see where collections that were supposedly dedicated to sick and retired priests have gone. Also, as Eng7 posted, any priest convicted of abuse should be stripped of all benefits. The "pension" these priests are receiving are peanuts compared to public workers. To think that the diocese is considering decreasing them is sinful. While there are certainly some priests who are not truly dedicated, the grand majority are and should not have to worry that they will not be able to survive after decades of service to the church. Oh and why shouldn't they qualify for SSDI or social security? Even if they only make $25-$35K/year, isn't that income taxed? Maybe I'm wrong, but I didn't think they were exempt.

Tillie9 wrote:

I believe that regular parish priests don't take a vow of poverty. saintpeter complains a church was sold while others complain the church needs to sell "treasures." 4change wants priests to "get a job." Too bad you can't try living their lives, dealing with other people's troubles and failings to see if you would still not call what they do work. Sadly, we are hearing too much from the disgruntled, those who focus on the human failings of some clergy, instead of on the beauty of the message of Christ. Peace!

I agree with you. I was commenting on hater ssjason. I'm sooo over the globe and the left beating up on the church. There r over ONE BILLION CATHOLICS! Sorry Haters! PS: It's growing in Africa and Asia.

ShoeCity9 wrote: This ought to help with vocations.

sasha49 wrote:

The church is reaping what they sowed. For years they covered up child abuse and the biggest abuser was Cardinal Law (even though he was carrying out Rome's policy)he recieved a nice "golden parachute". All one has to do is read the Irish Independent and read the horrors which were committed by the priests and nuns over the years. Re: Ryan Report. I don't know how the good and faithful priests can put up with this and continue with their vocation.Good luck to you.

AJRevere wrote:

Good Tuesday Morning! The answer to the reality is simple - we (Catholics) need to step up to the plate (the collection plate) and dig deep. We expect much from our Priests; they are taken for granted! Has the RCAB perhaps "mis-handled" monies; I am sure it has - then again, we all have. Some years ago, in my home parish, our Pastor got up and informed us that neither he nor the Assistant were able to have tasken their monthly stipend for almost six months. The reaction from the people was "so.. what do you want us to do about it!" The Church is a business - it has real responsibilities to keep functioning ; heating bills, insurance for properties, staff salaries, upkeep of properties, Guess what it takes money (cold hard cash) to keep operating! All that is asked is that each of us give an offering according to our means! Sacrifice just a bit! Many have $2.75 for a DD coffee - why not give it up one day a week and give it up to the collection! We should be embarassed that we cannot take care of our Priests! AJREVERE

Palladia wrote:

Back in the forties and fifties, teaching nuns were paid around $50 a month, to keep the costs of parochial schools down. So, of course, they weren't contributing much to Social Security, and therefore didn't build up much of an account. When they came to retire, they would mostly go back to the "motherhouse," and be cared for when needed. But there has been an ongoing problem with funding for the care.

Now, it's come to priests, many of whom don't have an equivalent of a "motherhouse" to which to retire. The abuse scandals have been enormously expensive, and with dropping contributions, things are no doubt getting tight. The vast majority of the priests weren't involved in the abuse, but they're going to suffer for it in many ways, anyhow. The Catholic Church needs to make some decisions as to what it's going to expend its income on, just like everyone else. In the past few years, it had built very nice apartments for cardinals to use in Rome while they elect a new pope, a periodic but fairly infrequent event.

Like every other business, the hierarchy tends to get better care than the workers. With top-down authoritarianism, this is what happens. The local parishes and parishioners ought to get together and change Rome's thinking with the power of the purse strings: Send less to Rome, and keep more local. I promise, that will get the Vatican's attention.

humm51 wrote:

Palladia...I was educated by the Sisters of St. Joseph who ran many of the diocese's schools. Their "mother house" in Framingham is totally unsupported by the diocese and in order to make expenses they now take in paying patients - in other words, they act as a nursing home.

I left the Church many years ago, a victim of 3 different priests, and I was not one of the people who participated in the various law suits. I assume there are probably thousands more like me out there. The priests in question were never named or punished.

Having said that, the nuns worked for next to nothing with classrooms of 50-60 children. They taught everything. There were no "specialists" who came in to give them a half hour break here or there. To abandon them in their old age - as the Boston diocese has done - is criminal. Nor is it surprising that the Church has found a cushy place for Cardinal Law. If Law were a supt. of schools who had moved around pedophile teachers, he would be in jail. He *should* be in jail now.

agbroadhurst wrote:

Most church workers including priests -- and the churches -- are exempt from social security taxes. If they haven't paid into the system they should not be allowed to profit from it at the expense of those of us who have paid all our lives. It is unconscionable that the Catholic church would even consider looking to the public treasury to support their priests. Maybe other dioceses need to pitch in here and help. And the Vatican can certainly afford to sell off its billion in wealth to help its priests. Let's take that vow of poverty seriously, along with their vows of chastity and purity--although I suspect they don't take any of those vows that seriously.

Title9 apparently believes that anyone who doesn't worship at the unshod feet of O'Malley is a 'hater'. The church does so little to inspire love these days, they don't deserve any. People who have left the Catholic church have not renounced their belief in God, only in the corrupt church.