U.S. Catholics give $28M to religious retirement fund

.- U.S. Catholics have shown great concern and gratitude to their senior religious priests, brothers and sisters by donating $28,016,815 to the Retirement Fund for Religious in 2003.

Donations enabled the National Religious Retirement Office to award almost $20 million in grants to 541 religious institutes with underfunded retirement programs throughout the country. The grants represent 38,903 senior members, age 70 and over, approximately $513.38 per religious.

In addition, $6.4 million was donated in supplemental grants to orders with critical needs, such as entrance into the Social Security system and assistance with health care costs. Many orders cannot afford health insurance, reports the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Between 1993 and 2003 the percentage of women's orders in the U.S., whose retirement plans were 61-100 percent funded, rose from 25 to 51 percent. The percentage of men's communities in the same situation rose from 20 to 64 percent.

Contributions come primarily through a collection in parishes on the second weekend in Advent. The fund also has been enhanced by nearly $1.5 million bequests and gifts received throughout the year.

In its 16-year history, the collection, taken up in parishes every December, has drawn more than $440 million. It has distributed almost $430 million.

The collection has been the most successful annual collection in the history of the Church in the United States. The first collection in 1988 drew $26,304, 299.

Church officials launched the appeal when it became obvious that funds available to U.S. religious orders for retirement were insufficient. Simultaneously, the religious communities began to cut costs and raise additional monies by selling property, converting structures to maintain them more economically and developing inter-community efforts for cost-efficient care of their elderly members.

Signs of the crisis began to show in the early 1970s as health care costs skyrocketed and demographics of religious orders shifted, leaving many older members. The resulting situation precludes wage earners in religious orders today from being able to support all their retired members.

Nationwide, 174 of the country's 195 dioceses participate in the National Retirement Fund for Religious collection.

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