I am writing this letter in response to the extremely disappointing decision of the Metropolitans to try and block a national discussion about instituting an Archdiocesan retirement policy and pension plan changes. Let me begin by quoting the famous Roman Catholic Archbishop Fulton Sheen.
“Who is going to save our Church? Not our bishops, not our priests, and religious. It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes, the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that your priests act like priests, your bishops like bishops and your religious act like religious.” Archbishop Fulton Sheen
As all of us consider the Metropolitans’ attempt to block this national discussion, we need to first ask the question posed by Archbishop Sheen, “Are our bishops acting like bishops should act?” I think it is clear that the answer is no.
The two resolutions pertain to: (1) the institution of an Archdiocesan wide retirement policy of 75 years of age for clergy and term limits for laity serving in leadership roles in Archdiocesan organizations; and (2) a request for the wind down of the Special Hierarchs Only “Pension Program.” To review the exacted language of the two proposed resolutions please see the Pappas Post article dated July 7, 2020.
In response to the prospect of these resolutions being discussed at the upcoming Clergy-Laity Congress, the Metropolitans had an emergency meeting on July 8th and issued an announcement rejecting “the current proposal in the form of the draft resolution … inasmuch as such a proposal is beyond the capacity of the Clergy-Laity Congress, which is unable to decide in matters dogmatic and canonical.”
The Hierarchs’ statement that the retirement age resolution “is beyond the capacity of the Clergy-Laity Congress” because it involves “dogmatic and canonical issues” entirely misses the point. The Archdiocesan Charter specifies that, if this resolution was to be passed at the Congress the resolution would be submitted the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Holy Synod in Constantinople for their “dogmatic and canonical” review. If, any only if, the Patriarch and the Holy Synod approve the resolution, would the resolution become an amendment to the Archdiocesan Charter.
But let’s discuss the merits of these resolutions themselves and attempt to see why the Metropolitans are so anxious to quash the discussion. The proposed resolution on clergy retirement and laity term limits would require that clergy, including hierarchs, retire at the age of 75. It would further require that laity who have held service positions in Archdiocesan organizations for more the five years step down. There is nothing new or particularly controversial about retirement requirements and term limits such as those set forth in the proposed resolution. The Russian Orthodox Church as well as the Roman Catholic church require their Hierarchs to retire at 75. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese itself had a retirement age for hierarchs. The reasons for retirement requirements like these are obvious. Planning succession and providing opportunities for new leadership are critical for our church. We cannot expect generations of the few celibate clergy to be foreclosed from hierarchical rank while our current hierarchs remain in their positions for a half a century. The ossification of clerical and lay leadership is a perilous threat to any organization. This is especially true for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese which is witnessing its communities deteriorate and its ministries become insolvent.
Let’s move to the second resolution. This resolution calls for the wind down of the Special Hierarchs Only Pension Program. I use the term wind down because the resolution states that all hierarchs that are retired or those that would retire within 60 days of the resolution’s final approval would retain their special benefit. As many people in the Archdiocese are aware the clergy pension plan is grossly underfunded – by at least $50 million – and there is a substantial likelihood that the clergy (in this case non-hierarchs) will received a diminished – grossly unfair – benefit under the plan. I firmly believe that the clergy should ALL be entitled to a fair, robust and equitable retirement benefit. They have worked exceptionally hard for the Church. It is the promise that we made to them. However, the Hierarchs, realizing the perennially poor financial condition of the clergy pension plan, have acquiesced in the continuation of the special plan which will provide them a secure retirement while leaving the rest of the clergy behind to deal with a very uncertain retirement future. Supplemental Executive Retirement Plans used to be common in corporate America. But over the last decade these plan have come under significant attack for being fundamentally unfair.
I urge the Administrative Committee of the Clergy-Laity Congress to do the following:
- Place the two proposed resolutions on the Congress Agenda;
- Allow time for a full and complete discussion;
- Conduct a vote on both resolutions; and
- Provide that the Hierarchs, as a matter of good order, should recuse themselves from the vote.
I would like to add a final word of encouragement for the members of the laity who will be participating in the upcoming Clergy-Laity Congress. Please speak up. Disagree with me or agree with me, but please speak up. We cannot expect the rank and file clergy to protect themselves here. We must confront the fact that there is a reason why the Clergy Pension Plan is so grossly underfunded. For decades now Clergy-Laity Congress after Clergy-Laity Congress and Archdiocesan Council after Archdiocesan Council sat and approved Archdiocesan budgets which year after year failed to properly fund the plan. This is not the doing of the Hierarchs alone. We all have been complicit in what has emerged as yet another financial crisis for the Church. These two resolutions are good initial steps. They should be placed on the upcoming Congress’ agenda, vigorously discussed and if passed submitted to the Ecumenical Patriarch.
About the author
Theodore Theophilos is a member of the Holy Apostles Greek Orthodox Church in Westchester, Illinois.
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