The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Many clergy unprepared for retirement

Some advice to all those young priests being ordained this year: save your stipends.

From the AP:

Clergy seem an unlikely group to be facing a retirement security crisis.

They generally are looked up to by their parishioners as wise and frugal. Their pay, although modest, is enough to get by on. And they typically are provided with housing during their careers.

Yet many find themselves in a financial quandary as they approach or reach retirement, squeezed by challenges that sometimes exceed those of other professionals. Often lacking home equity and a pension, some are struggling to get by and others are staying on the job longer.


ALeqM5gm6qa1Yr15T1Gnv7_pvpfh7X9jnQ.jpgThe root of the problem is not just limited pay or retirement compensation, according to the Rev. Dr. Bert White, a retired Methodist clergyman and lecturer at Boston University. It’s a lack of financial literacy among people who really need to take control of their personal finances or risk ending up in dire straits.


“Clergy are so focused on the hereafter, but we should know more about planning for life after work,” White says.

The Rev. Richard Matthews, 72, a retired Methodist minister from Gilford, N.H., finds himself in a financial plight he never imagined possible.

After 46 years in the ministry, he receives just $1,200 a month in retirement income, most from Social Security. He is on food stamps and had to turn his thermostat down to 52 last winter so he could afford to pay his heating bill.

Matthews’ annual pay package was about $75,000 when he retired from full-time duty in 2005 — about half in salary and the rest for housing and other benefits. Yet his pension income is only about $300 a month.

You can read more at the link.

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posted June 22, 2010 at 10:31 am

A good resource for all concerned with retirement would be Ian Taylor’s book, “Are You Ready for Semi-Retirement?

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posted June 22, 2010 at 12:44 pm

To be snide… Given that so many of these guys used their absolute no-input-allowed authority over church decision-making to run their parishes into financial ruin, it is no wonder that they didn’t manage their own affairs any better.
[Cathyf…just to clarify: the article is concerned primarily with Protestant clergy. I’m not in a position to know the financial health of a lot of Protestant churches, or how they are run fiscally, but I imagine it’s a little different from the Catholic parish. Dcn. G.]

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Mere Catholic

posted June 22, 2010 at 4:49 pm

Is it really “so many of these guys” as CathyF suggests? For every priest who has misused parish funds, there are more who have used their own stipends to contribute to their parish. The Dominicans in my parish for instance donate all their Christmas monetary gifts to the building fund. I have no doubt that there are priests (and clergy from Protestant churches) who have been poor stewards of the people of God who have been entrusted to their spiritual care, but I hope we remember those who have been faithful ministers of the Word as well.

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Fr. Jim

posted June 22, 2010 at 6:33 pm

While every diocese is unique, I’d venture to say that there are few priests who receive a salary of $75,000 even when one considers having housing provided.
Having said that, for us priests, the challenge isn’t being able to survive once retired. Most in our archdiocese continue actively serving well past age 70, save for health reasons, and many continue assisting parishes even when retired.
I do find cathyf’s comment a bit offensive, particularly given the fact that most of our retired clergy received meager salaries early on and many didn’t get into social security until later in the game meaning that their benefit is somewhat reduced. Being more middle-aged, that’s not a worry to me. I’ll have social security (well, maybe!), a small pension, and figure that I won’t be homeless or hungry, and I’d personally be happy with living in a rectory as long as I could.
My real concern, and that which should concern the People of God, is how we are caring for our retired priests who require long term care which is becoming quite expensive.

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Mike L

posted June 23, 2010 at 12:13 pm

To balance the picture a little:
As a physicist working for the government I considered myself well paid at $60,000 a year from which housing and support for a wife and three kids was supposed to be extracted. Retired, I receive considerably less, but only have to maintain housing and support a wife. As my wife and I get older we too are requiring more and more long term care, and we are expected to pay for it.
I watch our priest take several vacations each year, and wonder how he affords to tour through Europe on his supposed meager salary and hope that I can afford to fly east to visit my children and grand children.
Yes I worry about our retired priests, but I worry just as much about our retired laity who need long term care.

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posted June 23, 2010 at 3:53 pm

I don’t envy the priests their “vacations”. My priests have been called to study at Rome (not a vacation), traveled with the kids for the World Youth Day (not a vacation, especially considering one heard over 100 confessions), and one took a few days off when his father sickened and died. One of our retired priests is over 80, but he is the sole celebrant for the sparsely populated, swampy island where he “retired” – the place he grew up.
I recall a priest being criticized for driving an old Cadillac. It was given the family of a deceased parishioner. Some small-minded gossips drove him to sell it and buy a small used car – which got stuck in drifts and slid off the road all winter.
I don’t begrudge them anything. If they misuse what they have, God will hold them accountable. But if I envy them, what does that do to my soul, eh?

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James Morgan - Puritan Financial Advisor

posted August 16, 2010 at 12:13 am

He is on food stamps and had to turn his thermostat down to 52 last winter so he could afford to pay his heating bill.

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adult communities long island

posted July 5, 2011 at 10:42 pm

It’s a great idea if you set an early retirement plan. If you want to make it real, then you must stick to it.

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