Setting the record straight on the pension fund dispute

By Michael Kieloch

By now, many Rhode Islanders have seen or heard the outrageous claims of the extensive media smear campaign orchestrated by United Nurses & Allied Professionals (UNAP). For more than four years, the Diocese of Providence has been publicly excoriated and its entities frivolously sued over the Saint Joseph Health Services of Rhode Island (SJHSRI) pension fund – which exists to support retirees of Saint Joseph and Fatima hospitals. It is important to set the record straight on some of the blatant lies and misinformation designed to assign unwarranted blame and extract money from the Church through threats, bullying and invective. Our understanding to date is not that a single retiree has missed a penny of their pension payments. Some important facts you need to know:
The pension fund was under the responsibility of the SJHSRI. SJHSRI, an independent corporation with its own finances and governance, was responsible for funding the pension. The diocese had no power, authority or responsibility to fund the pension plan. Additionally, records show that the IRSSJ pension fund was more than sufficiently funded to meet its obligations until at least the Great Recession of 2008.
Hospitals have changed structure twice since 2008. In 2009, SJHSRI entered into an affiliation with Roger Williams Hospital to form CharterCare which exercised oversight over the hospitals and pension scheme. In 2014, Prospect Medical Holdings, a billion-dollar company, purchased CharterCare’s assets, including Saint Joseph and Fatima hospitals. Both transactions have been reviewed and approved by the Department of Health and the Attorney General’s Office. UNAP and its management enthusiastically supported both deals, a fact that union members now seem to have forgotten. As a condition of the Prospect transaction, $14 million – nearly a third of the sale price – was deposited into the pension fund.
The union was aware of the status of the pension. While he now claims he was duped about the status of the pension, a host of documents, including the regulatory filing, five pension freezes from 2007 to 2011 and the union’s own correspondence with its members, show that the union was aware of the status of the pension and that the diocese was not responsible for funding it. The status of the pension was widely known.
The diocese attempted to resolve this dispute. Despite these baseless claims for which it has no legal or financial responsibility, the Church is compassionate and recognizes that money spent on lawyers could be better used to support the pension. The diocesan defendants voluntarily participated in two mediations seeking a just resolution without result. While the Church brought its good faith to the sessions, the other side proved recalcitrant, handing out leaflets to cars in the cathedral parking lot the day before the mediation session.
Ad hominem personal attacks on Bishop Tobin and other priests are dishonest, disrespectful and patently false. These attacks, including the picketing at Holy Mass with school children, have deliberately created an atmosphere that is counterproductive to reaching a just resolution. As the diocese struggles to obtain factual truths in this dispute, the UNAP seeks to smear the Church in hopes that it can extort money in exchange for an end to its media blitz.
Withholding donations to parishes and appealing to Catholic charity only harms thousands of Rhode Islanders who receive much-needed social services and charitable support from the diocese. In the wake of the pandemic, the needs in our ocean state are greater than ever. The Catholic Charity Appeal is limited to use in our charities and cannot be used to fund legal defense or settlements.
The Church continues to pray and work to end this pointless dispute. But we can no longer remain patiently silent and allow our bishop, our priests and our charitable ministries to be tainted with lies and misinformation. Nor can we abandon our strong defenses and our rights to have these baseless claims decided in court. The Church will continue to honor the contributions of laborers who toil in the Lord’s vineyard. For them and for those we serve every day, we must speak the truth with charity.
Michael Kieloch is the Director of Communications and Public Relations for the Diocese of Providence.

Dolores W. Simon