Retirement funding for Catholic clerics falls further behind


Although collections in Roman Catholic parishes across the country have raised $150 million since 1987 to aid retired members of religious orders, accountants say the church is $6.3 billion short of meeting its present and future retirement needs.

The financial crisis is worsening despite cost-cutting measures and the emergency fund-raising, which included a sixth annual appeal in the parishes of the Archdiocese of Baltimore last December.

Nationally, the retirement shortfall rose by $1.4 billion in the past two years, Arthur Andersen & Co. has told the U.S. Catholic bishops. The accounting firm said cost increases caused by inflation alone are outpacing contributions.

In the mid-1980s, the church estimated its additional retirement needs at $2.5 billion.

In 1992, a national campaign for funds for about 600 congregations of elderly priests, brothers and sisters -- many without any pensions -- brought in $25 million, $365,000 of which was collected in the Baltimore Archdiocese.

Last year, the collections throughout the country exceeded the previous year's total by $500,000.

But "the unfunded past service liability continues to grow," said Dale J. Kent, an Arthur Andersen partner.

"It is therefore increasingly important to go beyond traditional fund-raising efforts to additional sources of revenue," he told the bishops.

The projected retirement needs assume "normal mortality" and include cash, investments, land and readily salable buildings designated to provide for the growing numbers of retirees.

Sister Janet Roesener, who directs the annual fund raising to meet retirement costs of 103,000 sisters, brothers and priests, praised the generosity of the Catholic laity.

"It's very satisfying for our retired members to know that people are grateful for the education they received from sisters who taught in Catholic schools and for the services provided to the public in the form of social services centers and hospitals," she said.

Nevertheless, about half of the Catholic religious orders in the United States have less than a quarter of the money they need to support retired members. Religious orders have been spurred to pool their resources in ways that they would not have considered 50 years ago.

If each order "does not start funding its past service liability deficit," Mr. Kent said, "the unfunded balance will grow each year by the amount of interest presumed lost by not being adequately funded. This amount can be substantial."

The crisis is blamed on rising health care costs and the failure of the religious orders in past decades to set aside money for retirement because members worked without salaries or received low stipends.

The median age in the Catholic orders is 65. Nationally, about 70,000 members are older than 60. Men and women in the orders who are over the age of 80 outnumber those under 50. In the Maryland region, the median age of male orders is nearly 58 and that of female orders over 66.

Preaching praised

The Rev. Phyllis Le Noir Hubbell, who will begin serving as co-minister of Baltimore's First Unitarian Church in September, has been honored by the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association for a sermon decrying society's attitudes about violence toward women.

Titled "Remembering Those Who Did Not Survive," the sermon won the annual Clarence H. Skinner Award for best expressing the Unitarians' principles of social justice.

Ms. Hubbell and her husband, the Rev. John Parker Manwell, who hold separate pastorates in Canada, will preside Sept. 11 at their first service as co-ministers of the church at Charles and Franklin streets.

German choir

Arlington Baptist Church at 3030 N. Rolling Road in Woodlawn will present a concert by the Evangeliums-Rundfunk Choir from Wetzlar, Germany, at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 3. The American tour by the 40-member gospel choir is sponsored by Trans World Radio, which broadcasts religious programs in 100 languages. The choir has provided the music for evangelists Billy Graham and Luis Palau in Germany. Information: 655-0991.

Towson landmark

Trinity Episcopal Church at 120 Allegheny Ave. has re-installed its steeple cross knocked down in a November 1992 wind storm.

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