WASHINGTON (May 4, 2001) -- The annual Religious Retirement Collection collected $32.6 million in the year 2000, reaching the largest amount ever collected in an annual appeal for the Retirement Fund for Religious.
"The generosity of our people seems to know no bounds," said Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. "They donated this money even when the country experienced a downturn in the stock market. Clearly, Catholic lay men and women have not forgotten those who sacrificed so much for them."
The collection achieved the extraordinary level as 83 dioceses increased over last year their gifts to support retired members of religious orders of sisters, brothers and priests. Two dioceses, the newly-formed Diocese of Laredo, Texas, and the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles participated for the first time. The previous high was reached last year when the collection, taken up in parishes in 1999, drew $31,455,000.
In this latest collection, which was funded by collections taken up in parishes in 2000, more than a million dollars each was donated in four arch/dioceses: Chicago, Buffalo, Detroit and Cincinnati.
The windfall will enable the fund to distribute this June $27.5 million in basic grants to 495 religious institutes, representing 25,641 senior members age seventy and over. This amounts to approximately $1,072 per religious.
Additional grants totaling over $4 million will be awarded later in the year to orders with special needs.
Bishop Fiorenza noted the history of the collection and said that Catholics responded as soon as they heard of the crisis and have given steadily and generously.
"Catholics learned about this need in the late '80s and took the dramatic position of standing with the orders who unstintingly serve our Church. Generous donations have made a
strong statement that U.S. Catholics never will forget all that these elderly religious do for them now and did for many years before. No other Church collection has been supported as consistently and generously as this one."
Significant progress in addressing the retirement crisis has come, thanks to the collection and other planning efforts. For example, 67 percent of men's and women's religious communities have shown a decrease in their unfundedness between 1993 and 1999.
Between 1993 and 1999 the percentage of women's orders in the National Religious Retirement Office database whose retirement plans were 61-100 percent funded rose from 25 to 40 percent, meaning that 52.2 percent of women religious in the database institutes have retirements that are 61 to 100 percent funded. The percentage of men's communities whose retirement plans were 61-100 percent funded rose from 20 to 41 percent, meaning that 36 percent of the men religious reporting have retirements that are 61-100 percent funded.
Contributions come primarily through a collection in parishes on the second weekend in Advent. The fund also has been enhanced by almost $2.6 million in bequests and gifts received throughout the year from generous individuals and organizations.
The collection operates with low overhead. It uses less than three percent of its donations to promote and administer the collection for the religious, who have a $6.4 billion unfunded retirement liability, according to a 1999 survey by Arthur Andersen LLP.
Msgr. William P. Fay, NCCB General Secretary, said the response shows gratitude.
"Catholics and non-Catholics have been helped by religious men and women and they remember this," he said. "These religious built hospitals and schools. They thought of themselves last. Their extra funds went into their ministries, everything from pre-schools and universities to inner-city clinics and hospital systems. They have touched and continue to touch people at every level of society."
To date, the appeal has collected $351,118,815 to offset retirement needs of religious. With the Year 2001 grants, the Retirement Office will have distributed $344,981,509 to religious orders for the care of their elderly and infirm members. As a result, the religious institutes have had additional time to individually and collaboratively plan and execute numerous strategies aimed at managing their retirement related needs.
Money is distributed to retirement funds of U.S. religious institutes according to a formula based on the ages, membership and level of retirement needs. Grants to individual orders in 2001 range from $940,000 to $1,000. Collection funds also have been used to meet emergency needs and to fund projects aimed at cost-cutting.
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. The average annual Social Security payment to a retired religious is $3,504.54. The national average is $9,792.
The latest appeal was launched in late 2000 by the NCCB, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious and the Conference of Major Superiors of Men. The organizations sponsor the National Religious Retirement Office in ashington to aid religious orders in dealing with retirement issues.
Nationwide, 171 of the country's 194 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.