Model priests, long lives, short shrift

Speaking of priests-as-monks…Boston radio station WBUR has this grim news for the priests there:

BOSTON — The Boston Archdiocese has admitted that, within two years, it won’t have the money to pay for the care and housing of its elderly and sick priests, unless major changes are made to those benefits.

An outside study says a combination of factors, including poor management, has brought the fund that supports retired priests to the brink of insolvency. As a result, starting Wednesday, retired and sick priests are having their benefits cut.


Joe D’Arrigo is a consultant hired by the archdiocese to put the clergy fund on sound footing. He said the fund was managed by priests with little financial experience who didn’t see the problem coming. “A combination of retiree health care, the housing costs and the increasing number of retiring priests over this last eight years or so just acted like a locomotive and the cost just overtook the fund,” he said.

This is terrible, given all these men gave to the church, and all they’ve been put through in recent years, esepcially in Boston. And it could have been avoided.

Last week I spent a day at the sixth annual conference of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management. Led by former financier and devoted Catholic, Geoff Boisi, the NLRCM want to bring “best practices” in management to the church to make better use of resources and personnel, to avoid scandal, financial and otherwise, and to restore credibility to the church and thereby advance her mission.


The initiative met some sharp resistance from many bishops and church conservatives early on, but it has worked diligently to overcome those suspicions, and the strategy seems to be working.

Tony Blair–a fairly new member of the Church–and USCCB vice-president, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tuscon addressed the conference. Kicanas will next year succeed Chicago’s Cardinal george as president of the bishops conference. Pretty high-powered players. You can watch their presentations here.

I wrote about the event for The Tablet’s annual Fourth of July edition (my piece, “Declaration of Interdependence,” is behind a firewall, alas). But worth checking out is Peter McDonough’s piece “Best Practicing Catholics,” in the April 24 edition of Commonweal (also behind a firewall–but well worth the subscription!).


A taste, from my Tablet piece:

As Peter McDonough noted in a recent Commonweal article about the NLRCM, the transformation of U.S. dioceses and parishes from mom-and-pop (or just “pop,” actually) family businesses to professionally-managed enterprises was prefigured in the “quiet revolution” of the Catholic educational and health systems in the 1960s, which started incorporating universities and hospitals and bringing lay professionals in to do jobs once reserved for members of religious orders.

“All this reflects a larger trend in which social movements evolve ‘from mobilization to management’–the grass-roots convulsions of earlier decades giving way to donors and nonprofits who cast themselves as philanthropic entrepreneurs,” McDonough wrote. “This approach rarely sets the blood racing, yet it has significant implications for the services that the church delivers and for the way decisions are made. What’s more, for reasons traceable to differences in church-state relations, private donors play a more important role in American than in European Catholicism.”


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posted July 5, 2009 at 6:55 pm

The Roman Catholic Church, and the brotherhood of priests in particular, has within its own ranks a model to deal with this crisis.
They need to look at the cloistered priests and brothers – and see how they come together as a community and care for their elderly, infirm and disabled brethren. With love. With compassion. With prayer. And with sacrifice. They utilize modern health care options such as Medicare, Medicaid and Hospice. They pray for and with these men who have served so ably and nobly and who have been stricken with everything from heart disease to cancer to Alzheimers.
I know of a Monastery near my home that is a very active, holy and spiritual place and they have quite a number of men in their infirmary. Is it easy to care for them? No. Is it pleasant? No. Does it cost money? Yes. Would they have it any other way (i.e. farm them out to nursing homes)? Never.
Surely from within the Church there can be some re-orientation about how to care for the elderly religious. Surely.
Perhaps in their “investigation” of the Nuns in America they can spare a few moments to see how the Sisters care for their elderly. I understand it is in much the same way as the monks.

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posted July 5, 2009 at 7:21 pm

It is so sad that the RCC with all the money it used to have, before it’s child abuse scandals, can no longer help those men who have spent their lives in the church. As much as I disagree with much of the RCC and it’s rules, I would think this should become a priority, in order to give back to the men what those men have given to the RCC…their lives, literally, as well as their care for the people in their parishes. The Vatican must have some things it can sell!!

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Steve T

posted July 6, 2009 at 3:30 pm

The Vatican needs to spit out some money. After all, it is the year of the priest. To abandon these men at this point in their lives is sinful in the extreme.

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John P

posted July 6, 2009 at 11:23 pm

“The priests and Church will be stripped of all her possessions and the priests will be forced to beg for their means.” It’s in the Catholic prophecies and as St Paul said: “I want you to know prophecy” Any Catholic who is truly surprised at what is currently happening to and within the Church is simply ignorant of the dozens of Catholic Saints who have prophesized these times.

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Gerard Nadal

posted July 7, 2009 at 10:17 am

Good luck increasing the number of men attracted to Priesthood if this is what awaits them after a life of devoted service. The laity need to step up here, or shut up about not having Priests around when one needs them.

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posted July 7, 2009 at 10:26 am

The laity need to step up here, or shut up about not having Priests around when one needs them.
The Pope and the bishops, particularly in the US, have made it very clear that they have no use for anything from the laity beyond their money. When they refuse to listen, refuse to let the laity have some level of authority in each congregatin, and refuse to take responsibility for their prior abuse of the laity, it’s no wonder that the laity don’t feel any duty to the Church. Remember that the Church can publicize the problems of the priests, but there is absolutely no guarantee that one red cent of the money donated by the laity would go to these priests. When the bishops reform and beg forgiveness of the laity, the laity will be forgiving. Until then, the Church has earned the problems it has.

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Your Name

posted July 7, 2009 at 11:41 am

And why should I be concerned about this?
Every year, nuns come to my church — and churches across the country — to ask for donations for their fellow sisters who are also sick and infirm. It’s a scandal that these holy women — who have educated generations of Catholic children, cared for our sick and ministered to our poor — have to go begging.
Meanwhile, diocesan priests retire to Florida, get a pension from the diocese and have likely received gifts and bequests from their congregants. Then, when they finally get old and need to be cared for, they move into diocesan digs.
Let them go to churches and start begging alongside the nuns. I know who I’ll write my check out to.

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