WASHINGTON (August 15, 2000) -- Religious orders of sisters, brothers and priests have significantly accelerated their retirement planning, according to an analysis of activities by the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO).
A report on the developments is slated to be made during the annual meetings at the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, August 9-12, in New Orleans, and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, August 17-21, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Sister Andrée Fries, director of the NRRO, and a Sister of the Most Precious Blood of O'Fallon, Missouri, will base her report on a study of data from the Dec. 31, 1999 survey of religious institutes by the Retirement Office. Results indicate that there has been a considerable expansion in the area of retirement planning and funding, particularly when compared with the 1994 survey.
The analysis found that:
At the end of 1994 only 40 percent of the religious institutes reported that they engaged in their own fundraising efforts. Since then more focus has been given to this area and today 61 percent of the institutes have development efforts.
There has been a doubling of institutes which reported that they have divested themselves of underutilized property and used the proceeds to create or supplement continuing care community support funds. Those who have maintained ownership have been looking for alternate, more productive uses for that property; 71 percent more institutes are engaging in that activity than were doing so in 1994, and 91 percent of the Institutes, compared to 81 percent in 1994, indicate that they have such funds.
The number using outside investment advisers to manage their resources has increased by 17 percent to 89 percent of the total institutes. More importantly small institutes, those with 50 or fewer members, show an increase of 40 percent in this area in just five years and in general have larger increases in each of the statistical areas than all institutes in general. The NRRO two years ago added a staff person to focus specifically on the smaller congregations and those with the greatest need.
The percentage of institutes involved in collaborative retirement projects has grown by 71 percent in the last five years, and now more than a third of the institutes report such participation.
The percentage, though small, of institutes which have their own licensed Medicaid supported skilled care facility has more than doubled in five years. Thirty per cent more institutes are using other Medicaid licensed facilities than were doing so five years ago.
More and more institutes are enrolling members in government programs to which they are entitled. These include Medicaid, including its skilled nursing care program, the Qualified Medicare Beneficiary program and the Supplementary Security Income (SSI) program. This is critical because an estimated 5,800 religious men and women receiving skilled care at a total cost to the institutes amounting to $204 million in 1999. Beyond that there were nearly as many (5,783) religious in assisted living facilities last year.
The total past service retirement liability has decreased from a record $7.9 billion four years ago to $6.4 billion according to a draft report being prepared for NRRO by its consultants, Arthur Andersen LLP.
"The problem of financing the retirement of U.S. religious has not gone away, but it is becoming more manageable thanks to the work of the religious themselves, the generosity of those who contribute directly or through the Retirement Fund for Religious, as a result of our
grant and consultation programs, and through a multitude of collaborative efforts," said Christian
Brother John Patzwall, associate director of the retirement office and coordinator of the study.
The National Religious Retirement Office is located at the headquarters of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB), and is sponsored by the NCCB, Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM) and Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR).
It is responsible for the annual Retirement Fund for Religious Collection, which is taken up in parishes nationwide in December. To date, the appeal has collected $318,427,337 to offset retirement needs of religious and has distributed $308,126,213 to religious orders for the care of their elderly and infirm members.
Church officials launched the appeal when it became obvious that funds available to U.S. religious orders for retirement were insufficient. Simultaneously, the religious communities began to cut costs and raise additional monies by selling property, converting structures to maintain them more economically and developing inter-community efforts for cost-efficient care of their elderly members.
Signs of the crisis began to show in the early 1970s as health care costs skyrocketed and demographics of religious orders shifted, leaving more older than younger members. The resulting situation precludes wage earners in religious orders today from being able to support all their retired members.
Some religious collect Social Security. However, since members of religious orders were only allowed into the nation's Social Security system in the 1970s, they could not accrue significant benefits. The average annual Social Security payment to a retired religious is $3,329.41.
Nationwide, 171 of the country's 192 dioceses participate in the National Retirement Fund for Religious collection. Those which do not participate directly operate their own fund drives or had started local collections before the national appeal began.