ARLENE VIOLET - Practice what you preach

ARLENE VIOLET - Practice what you preach

On Aug. 30, I searched the Diocese of Providence’s website. The very first item on the page was the following statement:

There is no retirement from doing God’s work. Donate to the priests’ retirement fund.

The site went on to urge generous donations during the second collection in an upcoming September weekend Mass and/or to send in a check to the Diocese for “Father.” After two weeks of silence from the diocese following GoLocalProv’s probe of the sorry state of the retirement fund for retirees of St. Joseph’s Hospital, I thought it symbolic that the Church was urging Catholics to support the priests while stiffing the mostly female nurses and hospital staff.

It was documented that the now-bankrupt pension fund has a shortfall of at least $160 million. Shortly after he became the Bishop of Providence, Thomas Tobin made contributions to the fund that fell far short of the actuarial advice he was provided, and then he stopped making payments altogether. Pension payouts, the highest of which for nurses was a paltry $425 per month or lower, went out of the pension fund without any money going in. He did not let the retirement fund participants know that he had ceased making payments or underpaid the suggested $3 million plus contribution the actuary was suggesting each year. The nominal board of “Super Catholics” overseeing the fund apparently acquiesced to the bishop.

Nothing shows more the misogyny of the diocese than the failure of Bishop Tobin to honor his commitment. His “let them eat cake” is reminiscent of the French monarchy treatment of the peasants. Mind you, the pension plan was part of a negotiated contract with the workers at the hospital. The bishop chose to treat it as a paper tiger.

I am very familiar with the hospital workforce. The staff was chronically underpaid but was told that it was part of their charitable contribution to the church’s ministry to work for lower wages. Many a day when I was doing inner city work, I would see nurses, LPN’s and the maintenance men leave with their paper bag lunches because they were too busy to eat. They worked overtime without pay because, well, that’s what you do when people are sick. Now that about 1,000 of them are in their mid- to late-70s, 80s and 90s, the Church’s failure to honor its word on the pensions will probably cut in half the paltry sum they receive.

Still, you won’t see any drive to help them out on the diocesan website. Only the priests, many of whom seem to be quite well off compared to the women in the white uniforms of lore. The bishop delivers homilies on justice but neglects his obligations to retirees and those eligible for the pension. In fact, he hasn’t spoken a peep about the malfeasance. He is hiding behind the exemption in federal law for church related pensions which escape federal scrutiny. My retiree clients and others who have been conned are now forced to sue the diocese. With the most recent checkered past of the Church’s handling of molestation cases and priests who truly are fathers with illegitimate children whom they do not support, I would hope that this diocese would show some effort. Hiding has never solved anything.

Violet is an attorney and former state attorney general.


Yay Arlene! We NEED someone like you to speak for us. You hit the nail on the head. How can the church request funds for the retired priests & not us? My financial planner told me he manages funds for several priests who have several million dollars invested!!

St. Joseph Health Services of Rhode Island is not a diocesan entity. The pension plan was adopted, sponsored, operated, managed and funded by SJHSRI, an independent corporation, and not by the Diocese of Providence. Changes over the last decade, including the formation of CharterCARE Health Partners, sharply reduced diocesan involvement in SJHSRI and the hospitals. And upon the 2014 transaction with Prospect, that involvement essentially ended. In fact, within that time, the diocese’s only role had been a spiritual one, maintaining Catholic identity and presence at the hospital.

There's no doubt that "Practice what you preach" is easier said than done at times! Also, whatever happened to the TEN COMMANDMENTS? Don't they apply to PRIESTS as well? These priests' behavior is HYPOCRISY at its best!

People wonder WHY many individuals have, or are 'straying' from their particular religion. Again, these priests' behaviors certainly don't help to motivate its followers regarding their beliefs!

Very well written.....thank you.


I guess the Vow Of Poverty is for Catholic Laypersons not the Ordained.

great article Arlene. We live in a time where a large majority of people need folks like us to just say it like it is.