Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 15, 2002
Clergy pension fund needs extra dollars
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
When Father Mathias Kuefler was an active priest he was taken care of by the Edmonton Archdiocese, receiving a monthly salary plus car allowance.
When he retired two and a half years ago the cheques from the archdiocese stopped coming and he became responsible for his own living expenses.
Since then he has been depending more or less exclusively from a monthly pension of $1,300 he receives from the Priests’ Retirement Fund, a fund for retired priests set up by the Edmonton Archdiocese over two decades ago. Kuefler, who before his retirement was pastor at St. Matthew’s Parish in Edmonton, also receives close to $200 from the Canada Pension Plan and an old age supplement of about $400 a month.
But he said if he didn’t receive the clergy pension he could not afford to live at his two-bedroom cottage in Birchcliff, a summer village on Sylvan Lake.
“I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have the (archdiocesan) pension,” the 72-year-old priest said from Birchcliff. “I don’t think I could stay in this place; I don’t think I could afford to make repairs to the building or pay (property) taxes.”
He pays $2,700 a year in property taxes for the cottage, the equivalent of two months of clergy pension.
As far as Kuefler is concerned, most retired priests could not make a decent living without the retirement fund. He should know. Kuefler helped start the fund and served as secretary of the fund’s board for 25 years.
In the old days, retired priest would serve as assistant in parishes in exchange for room and board. “That’s retiring without any dignity,” the priest said, noting that the Priest’s Pension Plan has reversed that.
But Kuefler said the plan, funded chiefly through priests’ contributions and parish assessments, is “severely underfunded” and needs significant contributions if it is to meet the demands that will be placed on it in the near future.
He hopes Catholics will dig deep on Good Shepherd Sunday, April 21, when a special collection for the fund will be held throughout the archdiocese. People’s donations, he said, will continue to ensure a dignified retirement for priests.
“This is a major source of income for retired priests and we have to make sure it continues into the future,” noted Father Ken West, current secretary of the fund board. “We are happy that the opportunity has come for people to show their appreciation to their priests.”
Out of 80 priests in the Edmonton Archdiocese, 30 are receiving a full pension and 18 are receiving a partial pension. And by 2005 another eight priests will qualify for a pension as they reach age 65.
“As you can see, there more priests drawing from the fund than contributing to it,” noted Father Joseph Wroblewski, pastor at Wainwright and member of the fund board.
“That’s why it needs assistance. Hopefully the Catholics of the archdiocese will be generous and understanding on Good Shepherd Sunday. Our campaign objective is to top up the fund to ensure a dignified retirement for our diocesan priests.”
How much money there is in the fund and how short it is will have to remain a mystery as fund treasurer Wayne Provencal refused to give figures, saying only that the fund is “underfunded.” According to Kuefler, however, “several millions” are in the fund but he said a lot more is needed to ensure its future viability.
Msgr. Jack Hamilton, who took over as chair of the fund just a few weeks ago, said the fund is “in need of something like two million dollars” over the next few years.
“It’s very badly underfunded and we are trying to, through this special collection, top it up as best as we can. We have an assessment against the priests every year and there is also an assessment against each parish every year but it hasn’t been enough to maintain the fund at the level at which it should be.”
Active priests contribute $500 per year toward the fund while parishes contribute two per cent of their annual revenues. Parishes administered by religious priests contribute one per cent annually towards the fund with the other one per cent going to the religious order pension fund.
“If the fund isn’t topped up, we could end up not having enough sometime down the road to fund all our liabilities,” Hamilton said.