Caring for our senior priests

A year ago Cardinal Seán determined that one of his top priorities would be assuring the priests of the archdiocese that the Clergy Health and Retirement Funds would be available for their well being and care. The cardinal wanted to use the occasion of his 25th anniversary as a bishop to draw attention to the need of our senior priests to help stabilize the funds that provide security for their benefits.

A number of events and decisions over the last eight years contributed to the deteriorating condition of the funds. When the economy was strong and the stock market was at its height, benefits were increased. New benefits, such as dental care, nursing home care and assisted living, were added; and the fund purchased our retirement home, Regina Cleri.

During this same period, health care and housing costs increased dramatically while there was a significant setback of the economy. The net effect was a fund that was running a ten million dollar operating deficit and the funds fell in value.

Cardinal Seán is committed to ensuring that adequate retirement stipends and appropriate healthcare are available to the growing number of retired priests. His first step was to ask for help from outside business people who have experience in these situations.

After a thorough analysis, a business plan has been developed and is being implemented to stabilize the fund. The plan consists in cutting the expenses to the archdiocese by using alternative sources of payment such as Medicaid and Medicare, implementing managed care and wellness concepts used in many corporate plans and managing aggressively our controllable expenses.

This process is being overseen by a soon to be appointed board of trustees comprised of well credentialed business people who have been acting as an advisory board while documents are being prepared.

In this era of transparency, a group of priests has been working with business people to develop the best approaches to some very complex problems. Their recommendations are being made based on the principles of fairness and equality for all priests of the archdiocese, both active and retired. Those recommendations are being implemented with compassion and a sound financial plan with the recognition of the current financial realities of the economy.

In this first full year, the deficit has been cut from 10 million dollars to 7 million, even though there has been a dramatic increase in the cost of medical care. The financial projection is to decrease that deficit further in this fiscal year.

Stability cannot be accomplished solely through expense reduction; there is an ongoing need for increased revenue. The Christmas, Easter and June collections are the primary sources of revenue for the funds. The success of the plan to stabilize the funds requires that everyone help. The leadership of the archdiocese, the priests and the laity must all be part of the solution for this effort to be successful.

The leadership has shown their willingness to bring a new energy to this effort. The priests of the archdiocese are working as hard as they have ever worked to try to raise the awareness of the needs of the retired priests. In the next few weeks as Advent approaches we will once again all try to raise awareness of the needs. This year’s Christmas collection, as in the past, is totally dedicated to the Clergy Health and Retirement funds.

Together we can stabilize these funds and together we can make them sustainable so we can say that our priests are assured of a secure retirement.

Joseph D’Arrigo is the Executive Director of the Priest Pension and Healthcare Funds at the Archdiocese of Boston.