WASHINGTON (February 15, 1999) -- Generous donations, improved stewardship of resources, and cost-cutting have lessened the religious retirement liability by almost a billion dollars over the past two years, according to a newly released financial study by Arthur Andersen LLP.
The results of recent efforts to address the religious retirement crisis were published in Retirement Needs Survey-VII of United States Religious: Report to the National Religious Retirement Office, which was made public in February.
"The 1997 results show the first measurable decline in the level of unfoundedness since the inception of the survey," the report said.
The message is a "mixed one," however, it noted.
"While a decrease in unfunded past service liability of nearly a billion dollars in two years is to be recognized as a success, a $7 billion deficit remains to be reckoned with. Continued awareness, continued planning, and continued focus is required," Arthur Andersen reported.
The report followed the biennial review of the National Religious Retirement Office, which was founded in 1986 to help the nation's religious institutes address massive retirement needs. A key effort has been the Retirement Fund for Religious, a national appeal which has collected about $25 million annually since 1988. As a result of the first ten collections, 1988-1997, the office awarded $251 million in grants in its first decade.
"These funds have made a significant difference and are a vital part of the ultimate solution" to the crisis, the report stated.
Arthur Andersen cited four efforts which have enabled the reduction in liability:
- The giving public, generously responding to the need.
- The Religious making difficult decisions about retirement living situations.
- The Religious increasing their stewardship over the assets they did have.
- The Catholic Church hierarchy promoting awareness of this issue at local levels.
"Hard choices have been made regarding where the retired are housed and who provides their care," the report said. "Institutes have merged in order to pool their retirement resources," for example.
The religious orders learned in the 1980s that their retirement liability reached into the billions. They immediately began a program of cost-cutting, sale of property, joint retirement strategies and fund-raising strategies -- efforts supported through the national, annual Retirement Fund for Religious collection.
Funds from the collection, which relies primarily on money collected at parish Masses during one week-end a year, have been distributed among the nation's more than 92,000 retired sisters, brothers and priests in religious orders, whose institutes have received annual grants because of their past service to the Church and their retirement shortfall.
Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, noted that the liability would be completely daunting except for the generosity of those who contribute to the collection.
"This crisis has touched the hearts of everyone, which explains why the collection has been most successful from its start. Without the donations, many religious institutes would be in desperate straits right now," Bishop Fiorenza said. "Retired priests, brothers and sisters are heartened by the generosity of the people in the United States who show how much they appreciate the education, health care, social services and spiritual support they have received from the religious."
Bishop Fiorenza also praised the religious men and women for forthrightly facing the problem.
"All around the country we see religious orders joining together to set up cost-effective retirement centers," he said, for example. "They've also become experts on care for the elderly and have shared what they've learned."