The Economist has published an impressively thorough investigation into the books of the Catholic Church in the United States, and it doesn't stop at the $3.3 billion in sex abuse settlements, the staggeringly large annual lobbying fees to keep statutes of limitations laws in their favor, or the declining contributions of parishioners:
In the church, retirement is still largely in the gift of the bishop. Retirement plans for priests are typically set up as diocesan trusts rather than proper pension funds with structured benefits. They do not fall under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, the law that establishes standards for plan trustees and remedies for beneficiaries, including access to federal courts. Priests thus have no recourse to law if they are hard done by. Nor, as a matter of course, can they take their pensions with them if they leave for another diocese.
Richard Vega, who recently stepped down as president of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils, estimates that 75-80% of clergy pension schemes in America are underfunded. He says that only a small minority of priests will have set aside enough of their net average salary of $25,000 a year to cover themselves. Others will be less fortunate.
It's an absolute must-read, and the difficulties of charting a financial freefall in an secular business environment are surprisingly fascinating.