The Priests’ Retirement Fund (PRF) has been in the limelight these last weeks. As part of the Diocesan incorporation project (see above), the PRF will become a ringfenced ‘Special Trust’ within the new Diocesan charity. Here, I am grateful to Heather Hauschild, our Chief Operating Officer, for explaining what this means.
The Bishop is responsible for the care of retired priests. The Priests’ Retirement Fund (PRF) has operated since the 1990s as a separate charity, albeit with the same trustees as the Diocesan charity. Its day-to-day work has been overseen by a separate management board which includes members of the Clergy Support team. Although a separate charity, support has always been provided by the central diocesan Support and Administration Services, the Curia. An example of this is the development of the annual accounts each year and the buying and selling of property. The work of the PRF is always a central part of the work we do as a Diocese. However, there are some complexities in the regulations about how a separate charity should operate. For us this made even more challenging when the charity is under financial pressure as the PRF is now. We are fortunate that our retired priests often live long and healthy lives, often supporting parishes long into retirement, and we are thankful for this. As more priests reach retirement age, more support is needed, and the PRF, along with the rest of the Diocese, is facing significant challenges in meeting all these needs. This is why we have included the PRF in the Closer to Christ Fundraising Campaign as a priority. The Trustees have taken specific advice about how to manage the PRF in the future. Having received independent legal advice, they have decided to apply to the Charity Commission to bring the PRF into the Diocesan Charity as a special trust when it becomes a CIO.
There have been some concerns about how this will operate and whether the assets and money will be safe if the PRF is no longer a separate charity. It is completely understood that in any proposed change, the funds and property that belong to the PRF are absolutely safeguarded and can only be used to meet the needs of the retired priests. The application to the Charity Commission will ask for the PRF to be a “Special Trust” linked to the CIO. It is akin to a separate charity but without the complexities around how decisions are made and the additional costs of administering a completely separate charity. It also reflects the Bishop’s responsibilities for his retired priests. While the assets of the Special Trust are administered under one charity, they can only be used for the purposes set out as part of the Special Trust which has been drawn up. A Special Trust is more restrictive than a more commonly understood restricted fund. For example, the Diocese could not sell a PRF property and use the proceeds for a purpose other than the care for retired priests. The assets of the Special Trust will be accounted for separately and cannot be used to offset any other liabilities of the charity, nor can they be used directly or indirectly for any purpose other than the care of retired priests. For example, the properties in the Special Trust could not be used as security for a loan to fund the other operations of the diocesan charity.
Any money donated to a charitable trust belongs to the Trust only for the furtherance of its objects. The object of the PRF is “the relief of retired Diocesan Priests or those Priests who are no longer able to carry out their pastoral duties of the Roman Catholic Church for whom the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth has a responsibility under Canon Law by the provision of housing maintenance and general charitable support.” Money raised for the PRF through the Closer to Christ Campaign will be included in the Special Trust.