Plush retirement for priests

Editor's note: This column is being repeated by Catholic News Service. Father Doyle is now retired.

Q. With all due respect to my Catholic faith, there is one thing that I question. Many, many devout Catholics have contributed over the years to special collections for the benefit of retired priests. After all these collections and all the beautiful retirement homes for priests that now exist, shouldn't we be doing more instead for the poor? The very ones who have contributed to build these homes cannot afford the comfort and the luxury that priests now enjoy. (Schriever, Louisiana)

A. As a diocesan priest for 49 years who will soon face retirement, I took a particular interest in your question -- and I almost wish that things were as you describe them. In fact, most dioceses do not have retirement homes for their priests, and following retirement (in our diocese, it has been optional at 70, mandatory at 75) a priest is on his own financially.

Some priests may have inherited a family home, but that is by far the exception. Most retirees wind up renting an apartment. (Retired priests generally decline to remain in the rectory where they served as pastor even if it's offered; they do not want to compromise the work of a new pastor by dividing the loyalties of parishioners.)

The monthly retirement stipend from our diocese (for those retiring at 75) is $1,900. If a priest has contributed to Social Security over the years (some opted not to), he is eligible for a second monthly check -- but since his lifetime earnings were minimal, that check is generally not substantial. Retirees, if their health is good, might also help with Masses at a parish, for which they would receive a stipend (perhaps $25 for a weekday Mass, $75 on a weekend). From this income, a retired priest is responsible for his expenses -- rent, food, transportation, extraordinary health costs, etc.

These figures would tend to show that most retired diocesan priests, while not living in poverty, don't live in luxury either. And yes, I would agree with you that our primary fundraising efforts should be on behalf of the truly poor, who may not have enough to live anywhere at all.