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Posted May 20, 2009

Statistics on Retirement for Priests

Taken from A Special Report by
The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate

“When we can no longer ‘do’ but only ‘be,’ I hope we will be cared for. I’m not convinced the diocese has planned well for this eventually.”

– On average, dioceses now have one retired priest for every two active priests.

– Half of all priests currently in active ministry are over age 60.

– Half of all priests still in active ministry expect to retire within the next ten years 9by 2019 or earlier.).

– Retirement for diocesan priests is not mandated in canon law, nor is it required in most dioceses.

Eligibility for Full Retirement Benefits

– On average, priests report that 71 is the typical age of eligibility for “full” retirement benefits in their diocese. However, three in ten (29%) report an eligibility age higher than that (usually 75) while only 15 percent report one lower than that (commonly 65).

– The average age of eligibility for “early” retirement with benefits, generally for health reasons, is 67.

Retirement Benefits

Although six in ten “strongly” agree that their pension plan is adequate and about half agree as strongly that they are able to provide for their financial needs, one in ten “strongly” disagree with each of these statements. One respondent noted that: “Pension benefits are not in step with the real world. Pension benefits plus Social Security still won’t amount to livable wage to retire on. We are still working under a feudal system concerning our wages, benefits, and pension beneifts. It’s sad and needs to change.”


Vesting refers to the length of service after which a priest has a guaranteed right to some level of retirement benefits.

Thirty percent of diocesan priests report that they are vested into the diocesan retirement plan upon ordination, while half are vested after a specified number of years. Ten years is the most common response, although a number of priests report that they not vested until retirement. One in five report no vesting provisions in the dioceses. The vesting arrangement range from now vesting to more than 30 years. One retired priest wrote of a “need for a legal official retirement fund with entitlements of vesture. Our present plan, while generous enough, depends on the will (or whim) of the ordinary.


Portability is the transfer of funding and/or service credit to another retirement vehicle, should a priest move to another diocese.

– Seven in ten responding diocesan priests indicate that the pension plan in their diocese is not portable.

– One in seven that their pension plan is portable to other plans that accept transfers. One in ten has limited portability to other dioceses.

– Only 4 percent have full payout rollover to an IRS – a tax-advantaged individual retirement account, or a 403 (b) – another type of tax-advantaged retirement savings plan available to public educators, some non-profit employees, and diocesan priests as self-employed ministers.

Other Funds for Retirement

Relatively few priests report other types of retirement savings plans in their diocese: 17 percent report having an IRA through their diocese and 9 percent report an annuity program.

Four in ten responding priests (42%) report that their diocese has an endowment or other special fund to help meet the needs of retired priests and a similar number (39%) report that their diocese has a special annual collection for retired priests.

“Many older priests did not plan for retirement by saving money and some opted out of Social Security years ago,” wrote one respondent. “Thus they have onlhy their diocean pension to live on. This is insufficient.”

Other Benefits Provided by Dioceses

Most dioceses provide health insurance coverage for retired priests.

– Nine in ten priests report that their diocese offers health insurance (89%) and most report that it offers prescription drug insurance (78%) and dental and/or vision insurance (70%) for retired priests.

– Generally, respondents report being satisfied with diocesan health insurance in retirement, while having some issues with cost, supplemental insurance, dental, and vision coverage.

Far fewer priests (26%) report that hteir diocese provides them with long-term care insurance.

Housing and Transportation Assistance and Preferences

Dioceses often continue to provide housing and transportation allowances to priests in retirement, sometimes in exchange for continued ministrhy. Some also provide residences for those in need of assisted or skilled care. However, the survey found that availability of such housing is inadequate to meet increasing need.

– More than four in ten (43%) say the diocese offers its retired priests a housing allowance but only half as many (21%) report a car allowance for retired priests. About half of retired and semi-retired priests “strongly agree” that the housing allowance is adequate to meet their needs.

– Half say that their diocese offers a residence for retired priests in need of assisted living and about a third say it offers such a residence for skilled nursing care.

– In retirement, half of priests would “very much” prefer to live in a house, apartment or condominium that they rent or own. Other locations preferred “very much” include a diocesan-sponsored retirement facility (25%) rectory or diocesan-sponsored retirement facility, or diocesan-provided housing away from the parish (23%), or rectory on parish grounds (38%).

– Half (47%) would “very much” prefer to live alone and more than a quarter (28%) would “very much” prefer living with other priests, while 8% would prefer living with a family member.

Continued Service in Retirement

Nine in ten priests in active ministry (86%) report working six to seven days a week, with 88 percent working at least 60 hours weekly. Many retired and semi-retired priests still minister as well, although usually at reduced hours. Semi-retired priests typically work five days a week (on average 30 hours a week) and retired priests work an average of four days a week (on average 14 hours a week).

Three in ten retired or semi-retired priests “strongly agree” that “retired priest” is an inaccurate term for their lives after retirement for active ministry.

Preparation for Retirement

– Only a little more than a third (37%) say that their diocese has a retirement planning seminar to help priests prepare for this phase in their lives.

– Less than half of retired and semi-retired priests (47%) report that before retiring they received some good advice about the issues they would be facing.

An Association of Retired Priests

– Half of the retired or semi-retired priests (52%) say they would join a national association of retired priests to speak with a collaborative voice for issues. Two-thirds (66%) would join a regional or diocesan association.

– A little more than half would be willing to pay annual association dues and half would attend association meetings to discuss issues.