Traditionally, religious worked for modest stipends that did not include retirement benefits. These stipends were invested in ministry and in education for members who were engaged in ministry. At the same time, members of religious communities often received pro bono services from generous Catholic health-care professionals and institutions. Today, a dramatically altered health-care environment and escalating costs have had a serious impact on religious institutes' capacity to provide the care that elder members need.
Currently, earnings from the ministries of younger religious cover a significant portion of elder-care expenses. However, the number of younger religious able to serve in compensated ministry is rapidly diminishing. In fact, by 2022, it is projected that religious age 70 and over will outnumber those under age 70 by nearly four to one.
Doesn't the Catholic Church pay the health-care costs of women and men religious?
Although most religious who currently serve in church ministries do receive retirement benefits, senior religious often served for small stipends and did not receive retirement benefits. Each religious institute is financially autonomous and responsible for the support of its members through the income of the institute. Income, earnings, and expenses are managed separately from the Catholic Church and its diocesan structures.
Why do those in vowed religious life receive smaller Social Security benefits than other U.S. citizens?
Until 1972, there was no provision in the law permitting religious to participate in the Social Security system. The FICA (Social Security) payments that religious institutes began to submit in the early 1970s were based on their low cost-of-living allowances, compatible with a vow of poverty.
How do I know that my donations actually assist elderly religious?
(Arch)dioceses submit donations to the National Religious Retirement Office, an organization that applies nearly 95 cents of every dollar donated to financial distributions that assist with the costs of elder care at religious institutes. Just over five percent of donations are used for administration, education, and the national annual appeal.