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Controversy has surrounded the clergy retirement policy ever since a draft presentation explaining the proposed changes to the priests of the archdiocese leaked to the press last month.
The presentation contains a statement that the archdiocese made no contributions to the Clergy Retirement and Disability Trust between 1986 and 2002. The archdiocese dedicates collections from Christmas and Easter Masses each year to the Clergy Benefits Fund, an umbrella fund which provides for the needs of priests, including funding for the Clergy Retirement and Disability Fund and the Clergy Medical and Hospitalization Fund. Some have claimed that the lack of contributions to the retirement fund indicate misuse of the collection money by the archdiocese.
Speaking to The Pilot June 7, archdiocesan chancellor David Smith explained that the collections were never intended to be used exclusively for retirement benefits. “I have gone back to check what we said and I could not find a single [communication] that said ‘only for retired priests,” he said. Smith maintained that the collections were used appropriately. “Every dollar that was collected was used exclusively for the needs of priests, and a great deal of it went to the needs of retired priests,” he said.
Until 2000, Smith explained, the Clergy Retirement and Disability Trust paid retirement benefits only. Medical treatment for retired priests was paid for from the proceeds of the Easter and Christmas special collections through the Clergy Medical and Hospitalization Fund.
“A lot of money was spent taking care of retired priests. It just did not flow through the Clergy Retirement plan, because it wasn’t set up that way,” said Smith.
Another portion of the special collections was used to fund the medical expenses of active priests.
Smith said that since the early 1990’s the archdiocese had not built up sufficient reserves to pay all of the medical needs of the clergy.
“The billing [to parishes] has never caught up with the cost, because the cost keeps going up. There is a reluctance to put a burden on the parishes, so premiums have been raised slower than the cost,” he said.
The special collections “effectively paid for all the medical needs of retired priests and subsidized medical needs of the active priests,” he said.
The collections were not needed for the retirement fund because returns from investments in the booming stock market provided the plan with sufficient funds.