The overarching goal of the Resigned Priest Pension Advocacy Campaign is to insure that every Roman Catholic Diocese in the United States provides all priests, active and resigned a retirement pension commensurate with their years of service to the Church as a matter of right and justice. Local goals should be guided by the policy and conditions extant in each particular diocese with the ultimate end of securing pension inclusion for all priests. It should be noted that the process of securing a just pension for all priests in your diocese will depend on a number of variables; the most important being the disposition of the bishop to this issue. It will take perseverance and organization sometimes even years to achieve favorable results. Your goals should be calculated to take small steps in a focused campaign in concert with other resigned priests, active priests and laity who support the cause.
At the present time, not quite one third of all Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States include resigned priests in their pension plan for retired clergy as a matter of right. (See list of inclusive and non inclusive dioceses) Some of these dioceses have included resigned priests in the spirit of just remuneration for their service of ministry in light of Vatican II pronouncements on the subject. Others have included resigned priests after a long and persistent campaign within that diocese. These campaigns included resigned and active priests as well as lay parishioners. Two dioceses in which successful campaigns to include resigned priests in the diocesan pension plan as a matter of right are the Diocese of Brooklyn and the Diocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis. Success was achieved by several years of persistent effort on the part of a number of individuals.
This issue has been thoroughly litigated. The courts have consistently refused to intervene in Church affairs citing the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution concerning the free practice of religion. Therefore, it is pretty well settled that there is no remedy in civil law to redress this issue. Your local ordinary will tell you that there is no obligation imposed by Canon Law on the diocese to provide a pension or other social security measures for resigned priests; only for “priests in good standing”. However Canon 281 of the Code of Canon Law sections 1& 2, do impose a duty on the Church to give just remuneration for the service of clerics and provide for clerics in illness, incapacity and old age. Most certainly it can be argued with measure of authority that a pension is a part of the cleric’s just remuneration for years of service to his diocese. The duty to care for clerics in illness, incapacity and old age nowhere uses the caveat that this applies only “priests in good standing”. In fact, the overwhelming weight of precedent shows that many priests fallen from the category of “good standing” through some transgression or character flaw have continued to receive financial support from their diocese and including a pension.
Further, the 1971 Synod of Bishop’s Document on Justice in the World and the USCCB’s 1986 Pastoral Letter on Catholic Teaching and the U.S. Economy both teach that as a matter of Justice, those who serve the Church, including clergy, are entitled by right to remuneration for their labor that is sufficient for a life of dignity and to social benefits as provided by other employers in our economy. It is clear from these writings that the Bishops of the US dioceses have recognized and endorsed that justice entitles all clergy to be paid for their labor in a way that is in accord with all employers in the United States. That not only requires just wages but also encompasses those other measures commonly used by US employers to provide for the social security of workers including a retirement pension. The Church is not exempt from providing just wages and a retirement in simple dignity free from want and poverty for all its employees including clergy.
The first thing you need to know is whether or not your diocese has a policy as to resigned priests being included in the diocesan retirement plan. As you can see by the lists of inclusive and non inclusive dioceses, the odds are that resigned priests are not included. If your diocese is one on the list about which we have no information, please share with us whatever you learn about the diocesan policy on this issue. You might inquire as a resigned priest who is doing some financial planning and wishes to know what his pension will be from the diocese as a part of that sound and prudent planning. If there is no right to be included in the pension plan, appeal directly to the Bishop for retirement benefits. You will probably be refused. If offered a one time payout, refuse it unless you can verify it is the full and accurate measure of benefit you would be entitled to under the diocesan plan. If you take a lump sum payout, it will exclude you from any right to further participate in the clergy pension plan.
Reach out to others about this issue. Find other resigned priests who are interested in fighting for the just deserts of their labor. Talk about the issue with fellow parishioners and active priests. Try to put together a committee of influential members of the community to help advocate to the Bishop on this matter. Try to organize a committee of fellow resigned priests to support you and each other in bringing this matter before the local ordinary. Identify and target anyone in the Chancery that might be helpful with information or to get your petitions before the presbyteral council or finance council for consideration. Every diocese has different issues and different personalities to deal with in waging this fight. The disposition of the Bishop is a key element to your outcome. Only those of you on the ground locally will know how best to address this issue in your diocese but studying what worked in other dioceses is a good starting point. If you can gain the attention of local media to promote this issue it will be a great help.
We can provide you with the outlines of several successful campaigns waged in the last ten years. Included are samples of correspondence between successful committees and the local Ordinary; letters to various chancery officials and to bishops. There are examples of the ways that the diocesan pension fund was analyzed to provide information on the cost of including resigned priests. This information can be useful in convincing the diocese that it can integrate resigned priests into their clergy pension plan in a financially prudent and cost effective manner. The more information you can provide to show this can be accomplished, the better the chances of selling your plan to the diocese. In the challenging economic environment of the present, overcoming the diocese’s funding concerns is key. Try to show that bringing resigned priests into the plan is economically feasible and painless.
CORPUS, through the office of the Emmaus Institute, may be able to help you connect to other resigned priests in your diocese who wish to seek inclusion in the clergy pension plan as just remuneration for years of service to the Church. CORPUS can certainly help you network with other resigned priests groups around the country that have successfully gained inclusion or are currently working on gaining inclusion to their diocesan pension plans as a matter of right and justice.
Dr. William Manseau, Director of the CORPUS Pension Advocacy Campaign and President of The Emmaus Institute, has been active in organizing and aiding the efforts of groups in numerous dioceses around the country through the Pension Advocacy Campaign since 1999. He has extensive files and resources that you would find very helpful in organizing and prosecuting your own campaign for inclusion. Dr. Manseau remains committed to the cause of the inclusion of all clergy in their diocesan pension fund as a matter of right. He is available as a resource to help you through his office at the Emmaus Institute in Nashua, N.H. Please contact Dr. Manseau at the web address provided on this website.
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