Subscribe for 33¢ / day

Hundreds of current and former employees of the Diocese of La Crosse have learned the pension benefits they were counting on won’t be there for their retirement.

Bishop William Callahan mug


Bishop William Patrick Callahan informed members of its Lay Employees’ Retirement Plan in a letter that the diocese is terminating their pension plan, which has been underfunded for years.

“After much analysis, discussions and prayers, it has been determined that it is necessary to terminate the Diocese of La Crosse Lay Employees’ Retirement Plan at this time,” Callahan wrote in the letter dated Feb. 27 and received by many employees over the weekend.

The plan covered Catholic school teachers, custodians, secretaries, rectory workers and other lay employees throughout the diocese, which serves 19 west-central Wisconsin counties covering an area extending from about Bloomer to the north, Prairie du Chien to the south, Wausau to the east and the Minnesota border to the west.

“It is alarming,” Regis Catholic Schools President Mark Gobler said Tuesday, estimating that more than 1,000 people could be affected by the change.

The pension plan members won’t learn the full impact of the plan termination until late May, when the diocese promised to deliver more information, Gobler said.

“It was quite a shock when we received the letters,” said retired Regis High School teacher Howard Campbell, who taught German and social studies courses at the Eau Claire private school for 40 years and has continued serving as a substitute teacher for the past three years. “People were relying on that income. Now to have this happen, it was devastating.”

Callahan’s letter notes that the pension plan was frozen in 2007 and replaced with a 403(b) retirement plan, meaning members’ accrued benefits didn’t increase after Dec. 31, 2006. In the meantime, he wrote, the diocese continued to bill parishes and allocate funds from the Diocesan Annual Appeal to help make up for the shortfall in the underfunded plan, but the efforts weren’t enough to fully fund it.

All funds in the plan will be distributed as a one-time lump sum payment to eligible participants based on the ratio of available plan assets divided by total plan liabilities, with the impact varying for each individual, the letter indicates.

“This difficult decision has been made to ensure that all plan participants receive as much benefit as possible,” Callahan wrote.

Monthly payments will continue until the final payout is made, tentatively set for sometime this summer, the letter indicates.

Naturally, the big question hanging over plan members is how big those one-time payments will be, Campbell said.

“That’s a huge factor,” Campbell said, “but right now everything’s very much up in the air.”

He fears the payout will be far less than longtime employees might have received if they continued receiving regular monthly pension payments of $800 to $1,200 a month for decades.

“We knew it would never be much, but it was just enough to get by on. We relied on it,” he said. “Now people are left wondering: ‘How am I going to come up with $1,000 a month? How am I going to cut back?’ “

Diocese of La Crosse spokesman Jack Felsheim declined to comment Tuesday on how many people will be affected or what led to the decision to terminate the pension plan.

Pension plan documents indicate the defined benefit program was created in 1974 and is administered by St. Ambrose Financial Services in La Crosse.

With so little information coming from the diocese, pension plan members are dealing with a lot of anxiety regarding their financial futures.

“People are very, very apprehensive, to put it mildly,” Campbell said. “The main thing is the very tenuous uncertainty hanging over their heads. That’s the frightening thing for a lot of people.”


(42) comments


The Church is not the federal government; they cannot just print money to pay their bills.

Maybe if they spent less on illegals they would have more funds to take care of their own.


An Redwall probably considers herself a "christian".


A press release was put out this morning which explained all. It turns out that the diocese has been a good steward of the funds and is doing the honorable thing here.


My thoughts and prayers are with the victims. There, that ought to do the trick. Works well enough for every other situation.


Why all the concern? Won't their great protector in the sky provide for them?

Rick Czeczok

You really should read the Lords word in the bible before you make that silly statement. I would worry more about not believing if I were you. What if you're wrong??? Just my opinion and I know it won't make a difference to you as you have made up your mind. It would be interesting to see you in your time of need moment. just what you do. Don't turn to the Lord as it's to late then. OOPS!!!!!


If you only believe in god because "What if you're wrong," then shouldn't you be worshiping all the gods? After all, what if you're wrong?


Czxzczzkz the Russian bot probably believes in talking snakes, too.


Help me space man!


A very small withdraw from the Vatican's enormous treasure troves could make this problem disappear very quickly.


Those of you that pay attention to your Soc Sec statements realize this is already happening there with future decreases & at some point that system will need a major overhaul. This is bad news for those depending on the payment every month. Sad stuff


The Church can talk the talk about poverty and justice and fair wages but cannot seem to walk the walk! Shame on you!

let it go

This must have been one of the last employer only funded pensions. Instead of freezing it they should have been given an option to contribute money. A person who worked solely for the Diocese because of the pension is like a church solely operating on weekly contributions. I am going to assume that many had other investments and this gave them health insurance.

LaCrosse Lady

The Catholic Church stepped away from doing the Christian thing years ago. It’s now a business. It separates property to “independent” entities which is still controlled by the church to avoid paying out to people it has harmed. It’s priority is to protect the Catholic Church and not the people it is supposed to be caring for. This is just another example. They are able to come up with money for thousands of dollars for Burk to wear to Rome but put little effort in caring for their flock.
Shame on them.


Take note this is the "lay employees" pension that is being cut. Not a word on the clergy and their pensions. I'm sure the Bishop and priests and other clergy will enjoy a nice healthy retirement package far into the future. This smells like a rat, with the church caught up in another scandal, and of course its not telling the whole truth. The diocese does own lots of real estate and holdings, but as history tells us, they always put money ahead of people.


Actually, while the St. Joseph's Priest Fund does give a monthly stipend to those who are "retired" from active service, priests of the diocese are responsible to provide for their retirement. I put $5,000 of my $29,000 / year take-home-pay away for retirement. Incedently, I also pay $4,000 / year out of that in taxes (that's in addition to what is withheld each month). Out of what's left I also pay 100% of the costs for my car with which I drive 1700 miles / month - most of that in service to the Church.


Could Burke's Lady of Loopy project have any association to the funds shortage?


No, the Shrine is a completely separate institution from the Diocese of La Crosse. Yes, they are both Catholic entities, but they are completely separate. You might also note that the freezing of the fund occurred in 2007, five years after Cardinal Burke was transferred to St. Louis.


Not Catholic, so I'm just an observer. But the timing you note doesn't absolve him from involvement in the financial problem.

awol2009 I bet Dennis Herrick's phone is ringing off the hook and their website is blowing up. The multi-billion $ Mafia in Rome, oops, I mean The Vatican, must have a way to fund this failing pension and prop it up? Maybe sell some gold or sell some properties. I would wager a bet this isn't the only Diocese in trouble.


I feel sorry for Dennis. What a crappy mess to walk into. As for the Vatican bailing out the pension fund, the Diocese of La Crosse is a corporately separate entity from the Vatican. That would be like expecting the federal government to bail out the State of Wisconsin...not like to happen.


the federal government helps out the state of Wisconsin all the time. They allocate highway funds, medicare, educational etc. to the state every year. So yes those employees should expect the diocese to chip in and help out.


Money that the federal government receives from US the taxpayers. So, NO, it is quite different. federal monies are not "help-outs" to the state government, they are government funding for programs for which both governmental bodies have mutual responsibilities and interests. Besides, we don't get "taxed" by the Vatican. They are a separate diocese with their own expenses.


Corporations and public/private sector entities phased out pension plans in favor of 401K's and 403B's (gov't and nonprofit entities ) in the mid-2000's with options given to existing employees' that had the pensions prior to this. Some were able to opt for one or the other, or, even both, if they were fully vested in the pension. This transition slowly short-funded the pension plan, in all likelihood. The fund manager had to have known this would happen and could have found a remedy to salvage it. I'm the last person to defend any Catholic institution, but I'm leaning towards blaming the fund manager.


This story should be linked to the Tribune's "La Crosse County Circuit Court felony cases"
What horrible people.....forget the church part, they're criminals.


All of that high tuition paid over the years by hardworking families must not have been managed very well. There is a lot of information missing though, as to how this happened. I'm guessing the the option/ switch to the 403 in 2007 started the underfunding of the pension or something was highly mismanaged.


Stealing is a sin. They are stealing money from employees who were promised these retirement benefits. Meanwhile, the church owns gazillions of dollars in real estate and other assets, but they won't give up a penny of that.


Pensioners should sue in a class action and force the church into bankruptcy, if necessary, to fulfill its obligations and debts.


Actually, the Church of La Crosse owns very little real estate. Each parish is separately incorporated, the Shrine is not a diocesan entity, and it definitely doesn't have "gazillions of dollars" in other assets, otherwise we wouldn't have this underfunded pension problem.


Then force them to sell off their churches and schools. They STOLE from workers. If workers had stolen from the church they would go to jail.


In a law suit, the petitioner(s) could request the Diocese open ALL financial books and provide a compete independent audit. There are certainly cash reserves and marketable assets to generate enough funds to make employees/retirees whole again.


The Diocese of La Crosse doesn't own the individual parishes and schools. Your argument is neither legal nor even logical. You obviously have no idea how the Catholic Church is structured. You may have also missed the fact that this was a employer funded pension, no employee money was "stolen". It was a benefit that the parishes / schools were paying in to fund; no employee money - payed or contractually promised - was involved.


Meklos, the money was promised and workers based their continued employment on that promise. They were lied to, taken advantage of, and had their pensions stolen from them.


Don't worry Jesus will provide

Rick Czeczok

If you knew the bible at all, you would know that's not going to happen.

Rick Czeczok

Well that will just about end catholic schools. Wait just watch, they will ask the government to take over the pension as it is part of the new school voucher program. What about the priest's or am I not allowed to ask that. Once again I will be cutting off my donations to the church. Lutheranism is looking better all the time, just can't follow the catholic methodology anymore.

The Mouse of Death

[angry]It would behoove us to terminate all Catholic pension plans because the devil made me do it. We are bemezzled indeed by Priest Stormy and her pension-planning minions.


Well that's not very Christian of them. They must have spent it all on legal defenses for the various child molesters.


SHAMEFUL. Maybe Criminal. A lot of missing information


Actually, the Diocese of La Crosse has not had the priest abuse expenses of other dioceses because they didn't move priest offenders around, they suspended them.


They may have suspended them, but they failed to notify the proper authorities and kept it secret as long as they could get away with it. Believe me they paid their lawyers many a thousands of dollars to keep their secrets and avoid a scandal. The Catholic church is full of this type of secrets and corruption, and this lay pension fiasco is just the tip of the ice berg.


Actually, yes, they did notify the authorities. One spent time in jail and is not longer a priest, the other (who did not assault any children but was caught with child pornography on his computer) died before court proceedings were concluded. The diocese has also had a longstanding policy of providing mental health care to any who were victims.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

Thanks for reading. Subscribe or log in to continue.