If you are in church plan, you do not have a legal right to receive information about the financial status of your plan. If you are worried that the plan might run out of money – or if it already has stopped paying promised benefits or has reduced your pension – you should be sure to express your concerns. It is very important to communicate to plan officials (and to your employer or former employer) how important your benefits are to your financial security.
If you are in a plan that was established by a church or by a church pension board, it may be possible to persuade church officials that they have a moral obligation to make good on their promises to you. This can be done by forming a group to write letters and ask for meetings with church officials. If they are not responsive, the next step is to go to the media to gain the support of your community. This strategy can be very successful.
In addition, some retirees have brought lawsuits in state courts against the churches that established their plans claiming that the churches’ failure to make good on pension promises made to them is a breach of the church’s contract with them and a violation of the obligation of the people running the plan to act wisely, carefully, and solely in the retirees’ interests.
If you are in a plan where a church disclaims all financial responsibility for your pension because the plan was established by a hospital, school, or social services agency and not by the church, you may want to take the time to learn about the three dozen lawsuits that have challenged the legality of the Internal Revenue Service rulings that plans have relied on to claim that they are church plans exempt from federal law. The Pension Rights Center has information about these cases and has filed friend-of-the-court briefs in many of them. Our position is that the IRS rulings are not supported by the language or the history of the law.