La Crosse Diocese puts lay pension termination on hold pending review

Published 8:20 pm Thursday, April 19, 2018

By Mike Tighe, La Crosse Tribune


Apologizing for a communication lapse, 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.

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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.

“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 letter said.

The diocese issued an additional statement Wednesday saying that the previous plan to terminate the Diocese of La Crosse’s Lay Employees’ Retirement Plan and pay out each individual came after the Diocesan Finance Council, which includes both clergy and lay representatives, had studied the issue. It also came in consultation with the Newport Group, the actuarial and consulting services provider for the plan, the statement said.

“Upon further review and reflection, the Diocese of La Crosse has decided to place the decision to terminate the Lay Employees’ Retirement Plan on hold, allowing time to review the aspects and options in making any decision with regard to the termination of the plan.”

The diocese “regrets that an announcement of this importance was made before all of the proper questions were asked or answered, and for this we are truly sorry,” the statement said.

Diocesan officials remain “committed to figuring out how to best provide future benefits for all plan participants, and values the many sacrifices, and dedicated services from all its employees,” according to the statement.

The original notification to Catholic school teachers, rectory workers, 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 to employees said.

Acknowledging that the proposed termination prompted “anxiety and even fear,” the bishop’s new letter said, “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.

The February letter had 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 that letter, Callahan said, “I take seriously the benefits that have been part of our employees’ 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.