Friday, December 23, 2005

Scrooged by Sancta Mater Ecclesia

Bad news for retired church workers in Chicago: The archdiocese will limit annual cost-of-living benefit increases to a mere 1.5%--nowhere near the rate of inflation. That means all those primarily lay women who taught in Catholic grammar schools for scant salaries will get even less in return for their years of service. Also of note: The restrictions do not apply to clergy.

Said Carol Fowler, director of personnel services for the archdiocese, according to the Chicago Tribune: "We're facing the same kind of pension crisis that every organization is facing. Pension plans in general are under incredible stress financially because of the last four or five years and the financial picture in this country. Being millions of dollars underfunded, our plan has that same difficulty." Glad to know the church also is guilty of wildly irresponsible underfunding of pension programs; the archdiocese of Boston admitted to similar underfunding of its pension obligations in the past few months.

And it gets worse: "This is a provision that most companies don't even have in the typical private sector. But in the private sector, if a company promises a cost-of-living adjustment, it can't take it back," Ron Gebhardtsbauer, a senior pensions fellow at the American Academy of Actuaries, said. That's right, not only is the church behaving like corporate America, it's actually worse than corporate America, since through lobbying efforts religious organizations have exempted themselves from most employee protections--things like COBRA and ERISA, laws meant to allow employees to continue group health coverage and guarantee retirement benefits--as well as employment discrimination laws.

The greatest scandal of all is that this action clearly violates the church's social teaching, which speaks strongly of the rights of workers, though the bishops and pastors--from preventing unions among church employees to summarily dismissing parish and diocesan workers when regimes change--largely ignore it.


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