(Host) The Catholic Church in Vermont says it finished the last fiscal year in the red.
Bishop Salvatore Matano says the $128,000 shortfall is a large one.
Writing in the Diocese annual report, Matano says the church faces increasing fuel and utility costs and the potential expense of pending lawsuits involving allegations of child sexual abuse.
One especially troublesome financial problem for the diocese is the priest retirement fund.
As VPR’s Steve Zind reports, a shortfall in the fund has led to a cut in retirement benefits.
(Zind) Few people join the priesthood for the money. But like anyone else once they retire, priests need a source of income. Most receive very little in government benefits because, until fairly recently, clergy didn’t participate in the Social Security system. That’s why they’re largely dependent on the retirement benefits offered by the diocese.
Now the diocese says it’s had to cut the long term care benefit that pays nursing home expenses for retired priests.
(Hoak) “The priest benefit fund is significantly underfunded.”
(Zind) Martin Hoak is the Diocesan Financial Officer. Hoak says an increasing number of retiring priests combined with fewer people entering the priesthood has created a serious problem for the diocese. He says over time, priest retirement benefits will cost the church $12 million – only about 40% of that amount is currently in the church’s priest benefits fund.
Hoak says the elimination of the long term care benefit reduces what is already a modest retirement package for Vermont priests.
(Hoak) “Priests currently are receiving $1,100 month for their retirement and that’s very modest. I would do anything to keep that amount at that level.”
(Zind) Hoak says it’s impossible to predict what will happen to priest retirement benefits in the future, but the diocese will have to find the money somewhere.
Nearly a third of the diocese income comes from parishioners who give to the annual Bishop’s Fund. This year, for the first time, the Bishop’s Fund will include an appeal for money for retired priests.
The Reverend Charles Davignon has been a priest for fifty years. He says some priests are questioning the cut in benefits.
(Davignon) “That’s a problem for some of our men, and a question for some of them. Was that the best way to go?”
(Zind) Davignon says a retired priest who can’t live on the diocese retirement benefits does have the option of asking the diocese for help. He says the diocese has helped priests who requested more money for retirement.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.