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La Crosse Diocese to review lay pension termination

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Wausau Pilot and Review Staff

La Crosse Diocese Bishop William Callahan has notified hundreds of current and former lay employees that the diocese is reconsidering its plan to terminate their pensions.

The termination “is on hold pending a comprehensive, thorough review of the aspects and options in making any final decision with regard to the termination of the plan,” according to a letter sent from Callahan to the employees on April 10.

No diocesan officials were available for comment Wednesday morning, but the bishop’s letter stated further: “The purpose of this action is the Diocese’s concern for Plan members and to ensure that all options have been reviewed and considered.”

The original notification to Catholic school teachers, custodians, secretaries and other employees in the diocese’s 19 counties came in a Feb. 27 letter that said they would receive detailed information by the end of May.

Since that announcement, “I have received many letters, emails and had numerous conversations with members of the plan, pastors of our parishes as well as concerned members of the faithful,” Callahan’s April 10 letter says.

The February letter informed employees that all of the plan’s funds were to be distributed as one-time payments to eligible participants “based on the ratio of available plan assets divided by total plan liabilities.” The diocese and its 160 parishes were the only contributors to the plan.

In the Feb. 27 letter, Callahan wrote, “I take seriously the benefits that have been part of our employee’s employment agreement, but unfortunately, this plan has been underfunded for years. When it was frozen in 2007, we continued to bill parishes and allocate funds from the Diocesan Annual Appeal to help make up this shortfall.

“These efforts have helped but have not allowed us to fully fund this plan. I know some of you are counting on these funds currently and others are relying on them for the future,” he wrote.

Acknowledging that the proposed termination of the Diocese of La Crosse Lay Employees’ Retirement Plan prompted “anxiety and even fear,” the bishop’s new letter says, “For this I am truly sorry.”

“We became aware that all of the proper questions were not earlier asked or answered; for this, I am also truly sorry. Our intention has always been to ensure that the greatest amount of benefit is available to each Plan member. In the meantime, the Plan will continue as before,” according to the letter.

“We acknowledge that the communications from the Diocese regarding the plan have not been adequate,” the letter says. “I deeply apologize for that fact and pledge to be better in the future.”

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