Sydney priests retirement fund crisis

The Sydney Archdiocese is launching a new annual public appeal to cater for the needs of retired priests after an internal report showed that the existing fund was "in effect bankrupt".

The crisis is caused by a looming "bulge" in retirements by baby-boomer priests, according to a Sydney Morning Herald report, leading the archdiocese to a controversial restructure of the trust catering for active and retired priests.

With about 57 retired priests living in Sydney at present, the retirement rate is expected to peak in 2012, and a growing number of priests are expected to require assisted living.

Since 1972, surpluses from the first collection plate have been distributed to the Clergy Remuneration Fund, which provides some living costs for retired priests and supplements any shortfall in the income of active parish priests.

Fifteen per cent of that first collection plate also goes directly to the archdiocese.

Last year the archdiocese proposed reducing its take to 10 per cent, but the fund's trustees, fearing for their independence, want the archdiocese to take 5 per cent - as the Melbourne archdiocese does - and take over responsibility for buying property so that more funds will be available to help retired and working priests.

However, some are also arguing that the restructure is nothing more than an attempt by the archdiocese to seize control of the fund's extensive property portfolio, the Herald says.

According to council minutes obtained by the Herald, the fund secretary, Fr Joe Camilleri, denied the fund was insolvent and valued its housing portfolio at $8 million. He said it had reported a cash reserve.

The fund had been starved of assistance, he said, and the archdiocese's promised support of $1 million each year for the past five years had not materialised.

Cardinal Pell said he would work on a new financial model for the care of priests by Christmas, and it would look vastly different from current arrangements.

A spokesman for Cardinal Pell said he wanted to ensure a sustainable system was in place for the care of all priests.

Da Vinci Code provides solution for Canadian diocese

Meanwhile, the Canadian diocese of Edmonton, Alberta is facing a similar situation with its Priests Retirement Fund facing a $C2 million shortfall, according to a report last week in the Edmonton Sun.

The response of the diocese was to invite Quebec Cardinal Marc Ouellet as guest speaker at a Priests Retirement Dinner. With Dan Brown's controversial book, The Da Vinci Code as Cardinal Ouellet's topic, ticket sales were brisk - even at $300 a head.

The publicity campaign for the dinner attracted numerous donations for the fund and the 1300 tickets for the dinner were sold out a week in advance.

With $240,000 already collected, organisers expect the final total to go close to $500,000, the Sun reports.

Public appeal for help as retiring Catholic priests face bleak future (Sydney Morning Herald, 25/9/06)
Priests' retirement dinner (Edmonton Sun, 17/9/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Sydney Archdiocese
National Council of Priests

25 Sep 2006