BY PIERS MCGRANDLE
BISHOP CRISPIAN Hollis of Portsmouth this week called on all Catholics to show stronger support to retired clergy. He claimed that the Church is "not beginning to address the needs of retired priests".
The bishop's comments follow the recent publication of a report into retired clergy. The report, compiled by a Working party set up by the bishop, revealed "a very inadequate capacity in the diocese for meeting the needs of priests who wish to retire".
Commenting on the working party's recommendations, Bishop Hollis argued that retired priests in his diocese were entitled to "appropriate accommodation and an assured income which will allow them to live in reasonable comfort".
The bishop, who will see the number of retired priests in his diocese double from 20 to 40 over the next decade, is to launch a formal appeal on 1 October to set up a fund of £2 million. The fund, which will provide accommodation and finan cial assistance for retired clergy, has already attracted over a quarter of a million pounds from ten concerned parishes.
As things stand, no central retirement fund exists; all priests who are not from a religious order rely on their own diocese to provide for their old age.
The basic salary of a priest is so low (just over £23 a week) that at least half of all priests will not be able to acquire a house or flat of their own, or be able to exist above subsistence level. Up to a third of all priests, especially those with years spent in overseas missions, do not qualify for a full State pension.
The report recommended that Portsmouth diocese should be prepared to provide accommodation for any priest with no alternative available, in a location of his choosing within the diocese.
It also stipulated that the diocese should cover the cost of contributions to regional funds for incapacitated priests and make it possible for priests to contribute to a pension plan.
Finally, the working party concluded that the annual income for all retiring priests should be "made up to the level considered necessary for modest comfort".
Describing Bishop Hollis's appeal, Bishop Crispian remarked "some may ask why we do not simply tax the parishes and leave it at that. I simply do not believe that would be the right way to proceed. I am convinced that many (when they hear of the problem), particularly those who are in a position to give generously, will want to contribute to a fund that will benefit directly priests whom they have known and loved".
"There is no one else to whom our priests can turn. They are our responsibility, our family," he added.
One retiring priest from Portsmouth diocese told the Catholic Herald that he welcomed the report's findings.
"It is about time that we received this support. No priest expects to die a rich man, but I don't think we can be expected to live below the poverty line".