Retired religious face financial crisis

National Religious Retirement Office

National Religious Retirement OfficeSince the Retirement Fund for Religious was launched in 1988, more than $582 million has been distributed to support the immediate needs of elderly sisters, brothers, and religious order priests. The 2009 collection for the RFR enabled the distribution of over $23 million in Direct Care Assistance.

Three hundred sixty-three religious institutes of women and 114 men’s communities, representing 45,465 religious, received funding. Direct Care Assistance provides critical financial support for the day-to-day care of thousands of elderly and infirm women and men religious.

As health-care costs skyrocket, religious institutes must be increasingly resourceful in employing a comprehensive approach to retirement funding. So, while most religious institutes continue to support elder care through their own income and savings, many also rely on assistance from government programs, various fund-raising initiatives, and collaboration with other religious communities. Annual allocations from the RFR supplement these funds and help underwrite needs for prescription drugs, medical equipment, nursing care, physical or occupational therapies, and cognitive programming for dementia patients.

Direct Care Assistance also aids efforts by religious communities to ensure the safety and well-being of elderly members. Many convents and monasteries, some of which are over a century old, must be renovated for handicapped accessibility and/or updated with fire alarms and sprinkler systems that meet federal and state regulations.

An extensive review process enables the National Religious Retirement Office to ensure the most equitable distribution of RFR funds. In 2009, the Diocese of Charleston contributed $109,874.34 to the national collection, of which, $10,789.91 was distributed to the Monastery of Poor Clare in Travelers Rest, SC.

Why do Catholic women and men religious face a financial crisis as they age?

Traditionally, religious worked for modest stipends that did not include retirement benefits. These stipends were invested in ministry and in education for members who were engaged in ministry. At the same time, members of religious communities often received pro bono services from generous Catholic health-care professionals and institutions. Today, a dramatically altered health-care environment and escalating costs have had a serious impact on religious institutes’ capacity to provide the care that elder members need.

Currently, earnings from the ministries of younger religious cover a significant portion of elder-care expenses. However, the number of younger religious able to serve in compensated ministry is rapidly diminishing. In fact, by 2019, it is projected that religious past age 70 will outnumber those under age 70 by nearly four to one.

Doesn’t the Catholic Church pay the health-care costs of women and men religious?
Although most religious who currently serve in church ministries do receive retirement benefits, senior religious often served for small stipends and did not receive retirement benefits. Each religious institute is financially autonomous and responsible for the support of its members through the income of the institute. Income, earnings, and expenses are managed separately from the Catholic Church and its diocesan structures.

Why do those in vowed religious life receive smaller Social Security benefits than other U.S. citizens?
Until 1972, there was no provision in the law permitting religious to participate in the Social Security system. The FICA (Social Security) payments that religious institutes began to submit in the early 1970s were based on their low cost-of-living allowances compatible with a vow of poverty.

How do I know that my donations actually assist elderly religious?
(Arch)dioceses submit donations to the National Religious Retirement Office, an organization that applies approximately 95 cents of every dollar donated to financial distributions that assist with the costs of elder care at religious institutes. Roughly five percent of donations are used for administration, education, and the national annual appeal.