Today, the Boston Pilot published an article entitled, “Cardinal reaffirms commitment to lay pension plan.” Here is an excerpt from the article:
BRAINTREE — Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley is reaffirming his commitment to meeting the obligations of the lay pension fund and will give anyone who has already elected to cash out of the plan a chance to reverse that decision.
“As long as I have breath in me, I will do everything in my power to care for the thousands of people who have given their lives in the service of the Church,” the cardinal said in a March 30 statement to The Pilot.
In his statement Cardinal O’Malley also discussed the current financial health of the archdiocese that he says has improved from prior years.
“Today, the archdiocese is in a much better place and most of the fiscal challenges have been resolved,” Cardinal O’Malley’s statement said in part. “We are no longer in fiscal free fall and are in a much better position to meet our obligations.”
Pension plan administrator Carol Gustavson told The Pilot that Cardinal O’Malley will send a letter to each former employee who has opted to cash out of the archdiocese’s lay pension plan early by taking a lump sum distribution telling them they “can change their mind if they felt pressured” and that it will “make sure they understand he is involved.”
Gustavson could not say when the letter would be released.
Cardinal O’Malley’s actions come in the wake of recent criticism of the archdiocese’s handling of the lay pension fund.
Last week it became public that the Daughters of St. Paul have filed a lawsuit against the plan’s trustees in an effort to withdraw funds contributed for their lay employees to the plan. The sisters are asking the Supreme Judicial Court to order the trustees to provide them with an accounting, or rule the sisters were never part of the plan and require the archdiocese to reimburse them for any contributions they have made.
Also, earlier this week, former chancellor of the archdiocese David W. Smith met with reporters to outline what he called heavy-handed tactics to coerce former employees into an early cash-out of their pension benefits.
Gustavson said the archdiocese’s goal is to return the plan to fully funded status, which she cautioned could take well over 10 years depending on market projections and investment returns.
Cardinal’s statement on lay pension plan
“When I arrived in Boston the pension funds were in danger because the archdiocese was insolvent. We were running a $15 million annual deficit; we owed $30 million to the Knights of Columbus; the Catholic hospitals were losing $40 million a year; the Catholic Appeal had plummeted to $8 million; and there were about a thousand lawsuits against us. Some were even advocating that the archdiocese go into bankruptcy.
Today, the archdiocese is in a much better place and most of the fiscal challenges have been resolved. We are no longer in fiscal free fall and are in a much better position to meet our obligation. I am so grateful to our pastors, parishioners, benefactors, the army of very competent volunteers serving on our boards and our hard working staff who have helped us along the road to recovery. Their efforts will allow us to continue meeting our obligations and to carry on the mission Christ has entrusted to us.
If I did not care passionately about pension obligations I would never have transferred our Catholic hospitals to Cerberus. As long as I have breath in me, I will do everything in my power to care for the thousands of people who have given their lives in the service of the Church.”
We were pleasantly surprised to see the Cardinal make a statement about the pension plan and voice this level of commitment to taking care of retirees. We hope this statement represents a real commitment, rather than something just intended to quiet the current uproar over pensions, including bad publicity from the Daughters lawsuit and call for involvement by state officials. Unfortunately, many promises have been made in the past and not upheld, and we have no specifics on the actions the Cardinal is now committed to taking. As just one example, what are the plans to uphold the Cardinal’s promise from 2004 that $5 million in pension plan obligations by closed parishes would be repaid from reconfiguration funds? Despite justifiable skepticism, the statement is at least a small step forward vs the past practice of total ignoring of the issue.
What do you think?