Catholic priests in P.E.I. often are left struggling to make ends meet when they retire, says the chancellor of the Diocese of Charlottetown.
Rev. Eric Dunn says priests can be ill prepared to meet newly faced living expenses, most notably rent and travel costs, once they begin retirement.
“Some of our retired priests are borderline poverty,’’ said Dunn. “They are just making a go of it.’’
Rev. Joe Brazel, 73, retired near the end of January after serving 45 years as a priest in P.E.I., the past nine at St. Mary’s Holy Family Parish in Kensington.
He was not properly prepared for retirement, which he initially thought would come in June but was moved up by several months.
He is living in a modest one-room motel in Summerside that is shy on amenities (he needs to buy his own towels and dishes) as he awaits the nod to move into a senior housing unit. He has possessions stowed in storage and crammed into his car.
“It’s really a jolt to put it mildly,’’ he said of his new life as a retired priest.
“I feel cabin fever. You’re kind of in another world...once you leave the parish, it’s lonely a bit.’’
Dunn describes Brazel’s situation as “sad’’.
Freeman Whitty of Charlottetown, a member of St. Dunstan’s Basilica Parish, describes as a disgrace having priests retiring to a life of financial hardship after devoting decades to the church.
“It does not feel right,’’ he said. “It just does not.’’
Dunn notes Brazel is one of 16 retired Catholic priests currently living in P.E.I.
That number is certain to grow in the coming years. Roughly 10 priests are expected to retire in the next five to seven years.
Dunn says a benevolent fund was established in 2006 to take care of the needs of retired priests.
He says the Diocese of Charlottetown has contributed more than $200,000 to the fund each of the past two years, but can no longer afford to make such sizable contributions.
“If the diocese keeps doing that, the diocese will be broke,’’ he said.
So, a capital campaign is now underway to pump $4 million into the Priests’ Benevolent Fund, enough to sustain the fund in perpetuity.
Dunn is optimistic the 50 Catholic parishes in the province will step up. He says 90 percent of people surveyed recently said they would give to the fund.
“The people really love and respect their priests,’’ he said.
Catholic priests earn a modest annual salary of about $13,800 but also are provided a parish home and living expenses.
“I was able to live OK,’’ said Brazel, who ministered in 11 different parishes.
“I had a pretty good life, I must say.’’
The free accommodation and living expenses end when the priests retire. Brazel concedes retirement has proven to be intimidating.
“Such a big change — a new way of life,’’ he said.
Dunn stresses the life of a priest is a vocation not a job or a profession.
“You’re not in it to make money,’’ he said. “You are in it to live a life of service to the church.’’