This past weekend I came across a very pertinent news story in the New York Times about the retirement plans of public school teachers and any other humanitarian or religious employees who are enrolled in work-related pension plans. I know that many Café readers are employed in parishes, and thus fall under the pension plans of their respective dioceses, if one is offered in the benefits package.
The Times story stresses that we need to understand whether our pensions are 401(k) plans or 403(b) plans. I draw a modest pension from my diocese and I found that I am in the latter. It is important to know that the 403’s operate under less stringent federal guidelines, and as a rule can be less productive and harder to navigate than 401’s. If you start to read this Times piece, and you have trouble comprehending the details, this is probably a good indication that you need an independent advisor assisting you in your retirement planning.
Catholic dioceses are not exempt from fiscal catastrophes. At least a dozen in our country have filed for bankruptcy. Depending upon how the diocese is corporately structured, this may or may not impact upon the pensions of current or past employees. Catholic institutions can be sold to new entities which are not responsible for shortfalls or failed obligations in the pension pool, as happened in Passaic, New Jersey, at St. Mary’s Hospital in 2013.
Although one may be an employee in the church for an entire career, this is no guarantee that your pension will arrive to you intact. It is important that you control your own estate and have your present church pension plan reviewed by an independent advisor working on your behalf. Churches, incidentally, are not bound to full disclosure of a plan’s solvency.
Most dioceses are financially strapped and thus not employing the best internal financial officers or pension managers. The oversight of your plan is a critical issue and some form of diocesan structure needs to be in place to maintain accountability with employees. Consulting with your own advisor will help you to ask the important questions of diocesan officials.
I regret I am in the field today, teaching Church History to a Catholic School Faculty. At my age, this is an easy course to teach because I remember most of what happened.
I also was just asked to fill in for an all-day morality course on this coming Saturday. I will do my best to stay fairly close to to the Cafe over the next few days.
This is the third installment of thoughts on the sanctity of life. The previous two entries are posted on Sunday’s and Monday’s streams.
The Catholic catechetics regarding abortion in my lifetime has been molded in a deductive fashion. The Oxford Dictionary defines deduction as “the inference of particular instances by reference to a general law or principle;” in teaching of abortion, for example, our Catholic textbooks begin with the principle of the sanctity of life. Cardinal Bernardin argued eloquently a generation ago that there is no justifiable exception to the principle of the sanctity of life as a matter of belief. His “Seamless Garment” metaphor remains one of the finest exemplars of moral instruction. It is no accident that last Sunday Pope Francis named three American bishops to the College of Cardinals, each of whom had distinguished himself for breadth of mission in the defense and welfare of all human life in a pastoral manner of persuasion and example.
While the moral doctrine of the sinfulness of abortion is a divine and deductive reality derived from the Scripture and Church Tradition, it is also true that throughout history, and particularly since the scientific age and the Enlightenment, we tend to do our practical thinking inductively, from observation of particulars to principles. Curiously, deduction and induction are the methods of Plato and Aristotle respectively, and Church theologians and philosophers have borrowed liberally from both. I will go out on a limb here and assert that the Catholic Faith is shared and taught by principle and experience.
It is the experiential aspect of the Church’s Pro Life ministry that I would like to see reinforced. I referred to one reality of the issue a few days ago when I observed that the legal right to abortion established in 1973 is now so deeply embedded in the American experience that overt attempts to overturn the ruling would be rejected with the same passion as the overturn of the second amendment right to bear arms or the right of women to vote. According to PEW research in 2014, only 44% of those under age 30 recognized Roe v. Wade as a ruling on abortion. In my generation, that figure is astounding. Going further with the PEW research, younger adults also are less likely to view abortion as an important issue: 62% of Americans ages 18 to 29 say it is “not that important” compared with other issues, while 53% of adults overall say it is. What a generation gap.
The optics of “taking away” from women would not sit well. As we had dramatized last Friday, women have to fight constantly to maintain dignity. Something that we men rarely think about is how our society is perceived by women. I dislike generalizations, too, but American women still have a hard time of things in our country. I would say that one of the biggest shocks to me when I entered the mental health field was the high percentage of women patients who reported sexual abuse or unwanted sexual encounters in their psychosocial histories. My home state of Florida requires that I update my “domestic violence diagnostics” every two years as a requirement for renewal of my providers’ license. Issues involving inequality in pay and other stresses of the workplace are fairly well known. My wife holds an earned Ivy League doctorate, and it was very difficult to observe up close the many indignities she endured from bullying male parents and on occasion narcissistic clerics.
It would seem to me that a critical component of the Church’s Respect Life ministry must be a genuine interest in the experiences and sufferings of actual lives. I have cited the experiences of contemporary women, but the late Cardinal Bernardin’s Seamless Garment would have included under its shade all the suffering and marginalized in the shaping of the Church’s ministry. Sin begets sin, so to speak; the act of obtaining an abortion, for example, is the end of a lengthy chain of attitudes, events, and choices. One has to think that virtue begets virtue, too. I would like to believe that new chains of events can be forged with different moral outcomes. Again, remember that we are inductive people by nature; we draw inferences from what we see. When we see personal mercy, protective concern, and concrete support for the lives in front of us, as Mother Teresa exercised, we are more likely to extend it to the lives of those visible only through the microscope. Mother Teresa, remember, was an ardent defender of the unborn, precisely because she saw divine worthiness in the living outcasts of the streets of Calcutta. Hers was indeed a seamless service to life.
One of the newly named Cardinals from the United States, Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis, knows something of human weakness and the strength of good example. Archbishop Tobin has been a recovering alcoholic for 29 years. I do not know the full story of his recovery, but I would bet it involved AA and the 12-step process. AA came into being in the 1930’s when a few businessmen discovered that by daily meetings of support and encouragement they were able to maintain sobriety. They learned, among other things, that their sobriety was as strong as their willingness to help struggling newcomers, “by attraction, not persuasion,” as the AA literature explains.
Archbishop Tobin met with the press on Tuesday and I have a link to his interview with National Catholic Reporter. If you have the time, it is an intriguing and hopeful piece. The new Cardinal was candid about divisions on the home front. "I think what bishops need to do is talk with each other, always invoking the Holy Spirit to help us see." As a Church, as a country, we do need to come together and support one another. At least that’s my inductive take.