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Archbishops Playing House

If anyone were keeping a list of Flimsiest Religious Exposes of the Year, here is a contender.  It’s a report from CNN’s Belief Blog exposing “The Lavish Homes of American Archbishops,” and it is now eliciting predictably self-righteous comments around the Web.  

It’s a pretty pretentious piece of work, complete with photos that will shock almost everyone who has never driven through an upscale neighborhood and concluding with a bragging note on “How We Reported This Story.”

“Records reveal that 10 of the country's top church leaders defy the Pope's example and live in residences worth more than $1 million,” the story begins breathlessly. 

“Defy” the Pope’s example?  $1 million?  Please remember that the infamous German “Bishop of Bling” whom Francis ousted was spending $43 million to remodel a palatial residence, $300,000 for a new fish tank, $2.38 million for bronze window frames, almost $1 million for the garden, etc., etc.

If you know anything about real estate prices and about the number of archdiocesan residences built in the day when American Catholics expected their leaders to live like VIPs, as well as about the number of archbishops’ residences that also house offices, reception areas, chapels, and rooms for other priests—well, then, you might be surprised that CNN’s Belief Blog found only ten of 34 archbishops so shamefully lodged.  Certainly I was.  And I suspect CNN was also. 

This was one of those stories that has its headline before it was even begun. CNN makes a big deal of its “investigation”—confirming addresses, checking public records, and even hiring appraisers.  

But suppose that not ten but only eight or even five residences were found to be worth more than $1 million.  Wouldn’t the headline still have read “The Lavish Homes of American Archbishops”?  What is the likelihood that it would read “Despite Stereotypes, Most Archbishops Don’t Live in Luxury”?  Even the present story indicates that over two-thirds of the archbishops’ residences fell below that damning million-dollar mark. 

I am not denying that there have been scandalous episcopal expenditures on princely mansions, some in recent years when changed Catholic attitudes made this behavior all the more inexcusable. Such expenditures deserve censure, case by case.  (Not every case falls into this category: Archbishop of Atlanta Wilton Gregory was wise to pull back on his plan for moving to a new residence bequeathed to the archdiocese and turning over his previous one to a space-strapped cathedral, but the costs and proposed uses were by no means outlandish.) And the more bishops who lead simpler lives and follow Pope Francis in tearing down the barriers that divide them from the people—what Cardinal Dolan has acknowledged can be “the perks, the cushiness, we associate with being a bishop”—all the better.  There is too often a clerical CEO mindset that needs shaking up.  But identifying it with square feet and real estate values misses the real point.  

You can live like a saintly monk with a community of dedicated companions in a rambling old mansion.  You can also be an ascetic dwelling in a bungalow and a pastoral disaster. The idea of turning Pope Francis’s admirable example into a new kind of ecclesiastical scorecard—and a new game of “gotcha” journalism—is Pharisaism of the very sort Jesus deplored.

About the Author

Peter Steinfels, co-founder of the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture and a former editor of Commonweal, is the author of A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America.



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Wisdom from the chair of Peter!

I guess my view is that we should laud prelates who downsize, but shouldn't condemn those who don't.

Nevertheless, I do think there is spiritual benefit - for all of us - in asking the question, "Do I really need all this stuff?"

Well said, Peter.

So many points to make, among them the fact that St. Patrick's and its attached rectory were built in a part of Manhattan far from the pricey precincts, I believe. Moreover, how exactly would one detach the rectory now and sell it? Sure, Cdl Dolan could live elsewhere but the archdiocese would still have the building.

Also, where Francis lives ain't too shabby. It's a nice place, and the location, location, location is the Holy Trinity of real estate. The casa Santa Marta cost more than a million, but if you were to try to sell it, the property would go for an astronomical amount. Imagine what Donald Trump would pay to have a footprint inside the Vatican. Think of the casinos and hotels!

"....residences built in the day when American Catholics expected their leaders to live like VIPs."

Like the faithful who want their ministers to have Cadillacs and their Benny Finns to have private Jets?

I would question whether the grass roots Catholics ever felt this way. The recent criticism of the lavish livestyle might be more a result of catholics not being afraid to question the authority of the clergy. There were always the core cultivated by the hierarchy who would shout down those who question the all knowing Father knows best. People never approved of the more than comfortable live of the clergy. Especially since they were struggling to feed and educate their families. 


The frequency of questioning nowadays is more a result of the faithful having less fear than suddenly realizing that the clergy was too comfortable. Certainly that was a big part of the French Revolution.

Certainly the questioning of Catholics is greater now. But it is still astronomically low. How else would people tolerated Dolan living in a 30 million dollar mansion. Not to mention the 187 million renovation with the million dollars a year for security. Who manage to be in your face as you receive communion at St. Pats. 

Francis is calling for the bishops and clergy to get out of their mansions and get out to the people.  No question the clerical CEO mindset needs to be changed. Real Estate has always been a part of it. No matter how you slice it. By and large clergy and bishops have scarcely gotten the message Francis is sending. Apologizing for them does not help. 

It occurs to me looking at these photos of these palatial residences for hierarchs that Papa Francesco really knows what he is talking about when he says things like:

"the lepers of the church."

I really don't personally care how richly hierarchs live if only they weren't the sole person who built and continue to maintain these palatial residences.  That is one of the major problems with this idiot policy and ideology of corporation sole that the hierarchs cling to where they believe that it is their feudal and divine right to live the life of a prince.  

I would have no trouble at all if the people of NY really decided that they wanted their archbishop/cardinal to live in those palatial digs on 5th Avenue - not some feudal, autocratic prince with corportist tendencies making that call. 

I would have no problem at all if the people had control and distributed all that cash for the bishop's bling.  Most likely, if the people called the shots, most hierarchs would still live very comfortably - not unlike most Anglican bishops and priests do, but it probably wouldn't be so ostentatious, or so regal.  But much more on a human scale, giving evidence that the hierarchs at least once in their lives even read the New Testament.

The spectacle we Catholics now are witnessing is what happens when you give galloping narcissists unfettered and unaccountable access to mountains of money.  Just the act of the people having to approve a budget, which the hierarch would have to justify and defend, would reign in most of this abuse of power. 

This also has huge implications for the way the hierarchs have crippled the church with the venial way they have handled the sexual abuse and exploitation scandal.   The hierarchs access to unlimited money has bought and paid for high-priced legal eagles to defend them in court, freely funded the distribution of hush-money, and $billions in cash pay-outs to survivors for redress of grievances.  No justice, no peace.  

We Catholics must find ways to SEPARATE the MINISTRY from the MONEY.  Hence:


It seems to me there's a big difference between building something opulent and new (especially as a retirement home!) and continuing a tradition of residence established generations ago. Especially when, as in NYC, selling the property isn't really a viable option. On the other hand, while the article mentions O'Malley and Chaput as two archbishops who sold their mansions and downgraded to simpler residences, it does not mention that both were facing enormous financial pressures as a result of the sex-abuse crisis in their respective dioceses (something O'Malley took pains to point out about his own case when I met him back in March). They really needed the money.

The article quotes the Rev. Steve Avella of Marquette as saying, regarding hierarchs like Dolan who inherit historic residences, "They should convert the mansions to museums and move into rectories." That sounds like it could easily lead to poor stewardship of resources (keep maintaining the property but live in a different one?), especially where the public appetite for such a "museum" is low. Is it so hard to imagine that a bishop could continue to live in the mansion owned by his diocese and still live relatively simply? There's a lot about a bishop's life that I wouldn't find comfortable.

This is something that needs to be considered on a case by case basis that considers how the property is used as well as what alternatives would cost.

I do think that Jim Jenkins does have a good point that it would be good to move some of these decisions from the bishops. A lay person or committee is less likely to be swayed by the idea that the archbishop has to live in luxury.

"....residences built in the day when American Catholics expected their leaders to live like VIPs."

People in the pews had no idea how the funds from parish offertory collections and various diocesan-wide collections were being used. They (we) just took it on faith that the best interests of the Church were being served. To be subsidizing lavish lifestyles of those who considered themselves as so entitled never entered our minds.

Gone (for the most part) are the days of kissing the rings of prelates and using of terms like lord and prince to describe their status. We have every right to call attention to how our leadership in the Church are living, even though they may be living in historic landmarks and buildings that were donated or situated in high priced neighborhoods.




Why is selling the Madison Avenue Mansion not an option? Here is a pertinent article?

This reminds me of a past article on the expensive residences of bishops in Europe ...

When I see all these Catholic "ostentatiatories" I can only think of  what Jesus told the rich young man - sell all this stuff and give the money to the poor.

This from folks whose boss is the second largest individual landholder in the U.S., and who lives on a plantation?  But this is what we should expect (and welcome) as the reaction to Pope Francis's example, which will and should continue to make us all uncomfortable. I agree with Jim Pauwels.

“For Christ himself, housed in the tabernacles in the Church, no magnificence is too great, but for the priest who serves Christ, and for the priesthood of the laity, no such magnificence, in the face of the hunger and homelessness of the world, can be understood.” - Dorothy Day

(Source: )

Here's the residence of the Archbishop of NY from the time of John Hughes until 1879 when St Patrick's was completed.  The building is still standing; the Morgan Library is across the street.

Hughes had a library of almost 10,000 volumes on the fourth floor and a stable next door.



What Helen said.

The CNN article only tells part of the story. The cost of the real estate can be rationalized, when looking at the bigger picture, but perhaps where the hirearchs live is not as important as how they live.  Some of our more prominent American prelates, for example, are members of the Napa Institute, whose annual convention registration fee is $1700 alone, without the cost of the room.  The cheapest room in the house for this year's convention at the lavish Meritage Resort and Spa is $422/night.  I suspect this, too, can be rationalized, but it might be nice to know what the big picture on episcopal lifestyles really is.  David, maybe there is a story here for you.

"When I see all these Catholic "ostentatiatories" I can only think of  what Jesus told the rich young man - sell all this stuff and give the money to the poor." 

Crystal, your words are so spot on. In fact the poor is our priority before the bishops and pastors. Jerome and Augustine changed or demanded that the money should go to them and they would take care of the poor. (ha ha). So the present system is an aberation. Of course the Apostles took up collections and adminstered them. But there was no doubt that they used it for the widows and poor. Even Catholic charities come nowhere near spending the amount of money the bishops spend on themselves and their cronies.

Francis is pushing for more lay involvement. Like anything else it has to be professionally run and with total and absolute accountability. Something the bishops do not come close to now. They literally think they could do what they want with the money from the people. There is a lot of work to do. As many are saying: The next great scandal will be the financial one. 

I don't know much about episcopal palaces, but I remember the small brick rectory that housed five or six parish priests in the 1950s. It was anything but palatial. Even so, some eyebrows were raised when  room air conditioners appeared in the rectory windows while many parishioners were sweltering through a hot summer.

The nuns' convent was about the same size as the rectory, and it housed a lot more people. I don't recall whether the sisters got any air conditioning. But if I had to guess,...

Bishops are another matter. Sometime in the fourth century, I think it was, "bishop" began to change from a vocation to a career choice for the younger sons of the nobility, who saw no reason to abandon the perks they had enjoyed at home. It must have been easy to persuade themselves that when they were rubbing elbows with high officials of the Empire, they needed to maintain a similar status and comparable titles. With few exceptions, they haven't rethought that yet. They never tire of proclaiming themselves successors of the Apostles, but how often do they reflect that the chief of those Apostles is said to have ended his days crucified upside down? (Mind you, I am not here making any recommendations.)

Crystal, Jesus' counsel to the rich young man was preceded by "if thou wilt be perfect." If you'll settle for "prominent," the requirements are a lot less severe.

this was one of those much ado about nothing pieces.  Archbishop Lori's residence is an historic treasure.  Same with Cardinal Dolan's.  A number of these buildings are simply part of the fabric of their diocese.  And in defense of Archbishop Blaire, he simply moved into a house that was purchased by one of his predecessors, Archbishop Cronin.  It was cotroversial at the time, since Archbishop Whelan had lived in a room at the Seminary.  Any house in that particular neighborhood is worth $1 million plus today.  It isn't particularly ostentatious.  It isn't a 3 bedroom split level, but it isn't a mansion either.  Strikes me that if all you can find is this few number of very expensive houses, and you take out the one of historic importance like Baltimore, there ain't much there. 

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly,

"while the article mentions O'Malley and Chaput as two archbishops who sold their mansions and downgraded to simpler residences,"

Gee, I thought that they sold the mansions because they were followers of St. Francis. (wink)

Interesting that both prelates sold their mansions to Jesuit Univerisities. O'Malley got the better deal $100 million from Boston College for the mansion, large amout of property as well as other buildings on the property while Chaput got only a measly $10 million for the Cardinal's residence.

Now my question to Archbishop Chaput. Where are you going to house the Pope when he comes to Philadlephia?  I guess St. Charles seminary.

Far worse than the mere unseemliness of the Church's vast wealth is the likelihood that it has contributed mightily to the coverup of child sexual abuse by clergy. Protecting assets seems in many cases to have had a higher priority than protecting children. That is one temptation the poor are spared.

Even Catholic charities come nowhere near spending the amount of money the bishops spend on themselves and their cronies.

True, at least in the US ... thsi Economist article shows that the US Church spends a tiny fraction of its wealth on charity ....

There's incredible wealth in the church in real estate holdings around the wrold.

alan mitchell

What is the Napa Institute?

Jesuit Richard Leonard once said this  :) ...

t's a bit rich, pardon the pun, a Jesuit talking about riches. We're famous for many things, and real estate is one of them. ... We've got a good eye for real estate in Australia, I can tell you. I took my first vows at arguably the most beautiful school in Australia, a high school - St. Ignatius' College, Riverview ... we bought a penninsula in Sydney Harbor in 1871 - water on three sides of this extraordinary property - and we built beautiful sandstone buildings facing down onto the Sydney Harbor in 1878, and we built a beautiful chapel in 1893. Now I took my first vows on this magnificent estate ... poverty, chastity, and obedience for life, in the chapel there. My mother came ... Mum has a sharp wit, so as we came outside from having taken my life vows to the Jesuits, Mum looked at the sandstone buildings, she looked at Sydney CBD [central business district] on the horizon, the Sydney Harbor water, beautiful and glittering as it was on three sides, and she looked at the manicured lawns and then the sprinklers went sh-sh-sh, and my mother turned to me and she said, "If this is poverty, I want to see chastity."

"Bishops and Catholic Leaders Gather in Napa to Discuss the Church"

 The Fourth Annual Napa Institute takes place July 24-27th at the Meritage Resort & Spa in Napa, CA ...

MWO: > "They really needed the money."

Understand the specific contex, of course, but surely this is true eveywhere in a deeper sense.

There was a recent thread about the dire straits of the Chrisians in Iraq: well, there's a project that will require financial help, helpiing our sisters and brothers cross to safety.  (And not justin Iraq, of course.)  Or perhaps developing civil society in San Pedro Sula - who wants to partner-up with the local diocese and build some capacity for Hondurans (and Guatemalans and Salvadorans) to live safely and successflly in their traditional lands?  How are we doing with mental health issues at the community level where we live: maybe check out the local homeless population and their needs in this area ....

I think it is not an issue of money but the way you interact with other people. If your surroundings interfere with that interaction, you need to change your surroundings. Phil Lawler comments on the difference between the way Francis presents himself and the way previous Popes did:

Pope Francis is on a campaign to remind the world—and, yes, to remind his aides at the Vatican—that the Bishop of Rome is not a temporal potentate, and the spiritual authority of the papacy should not be camouflaged by the trappings of an archaic monarchy. That message, I sense, is beginning to sink in.

Ready for another illustration of my point? Check out this report from Vatican Radio, on the Pope’s earlier visit with Catholic priests in Caserta. To be more specific, take a good look at the photo that appears on the top of the Vatican Radio report. Do you notice anything unusual?

I do. The Holy Father is sitting beside another bishop (I assume that’s Bishop Giovanni D’Alise of Caserta) at a small table. The Pope is not seated on a throne, not set apart, not alone on a raised platform, not even on a higher chair. He is seated beside his brother bishop as any other man might be seated beside a colleague at a business meeting. At first glance it seems so natural, and in fact it is. But again I can testify that in 20+ years of following news from the Vatican, I cannot recall similar staging for any public appearance by a Roman Pontiff.

Some good Catholics regret this Pope’s approach, I realize. Some people love the traditional honors reserved for the Roman Pontiff. For myself, I have trouble imagining St. Peter in a cappa magna let alone a sedia gestatoria. Traditions can enrich us, but they can also sometimes imprison us. If the “old ways” of the Vatican have interfered with the exercise of the Pope’s spiritual leadership, then the changes wrought by the “Pope Francis effect” may be a tonic.


Elsewhere in the article, Lawler points out the difference in the way the Vatican reports meetings. When Francis met the Evangelical pastor, Vatican Radio gave nearly equal time to what the pastor said while, in the past, most of the coverage would have been devoted to what the Pope said.

There's a meme circulating on traditionalist blogs that the Vatican would save money if Francis would live in the Papal Apartments instead  of Casa Marta. It may be true  (they aren't renting them on airbnb while he's not there, so whatever is spent at Casa Marta is extra) 

Francis took a quick tour of the Papal Apartments when he was elected and gave three reasons ( as I recall)  why he wasn't going to live there: 

1. There was too much space (300 people could sleep here)

2. He didn't want to live where staff controlled the door and could decide who should get to see him

3. He feels a need to be surrounded by a lot of people rather than just a few household members

It's obvious that his food and living conditions at Casa Marta are very simple - and that message of simple living is important to communicate regardless of the actual cost. 

But I think it *is* an issue of money, not just of style.  The pope, being a Jesuit, knows that Ignatius said one of the signs of love is that you share everything you have with the other.  To be in control of huge amounst of money but to ot share it with those who have so little in comparison, even if you aren't flaunting that wealth, is not love.

What Mark said @ 6:28pm.

There is always a need. So there goes that argument.

I think bishops should live in a parish rectory; they need to be among the people and out their supporting their priests.  Like Bishop Untener was.  Centrally located episcopal residences could be used for service programs; the one next to St Patricks would make a terrific Christian youth hostel. 




Helen wrote, at 2:16 p.m.,

Gone (for the most part) are the days of kissing the rings of prelates and using of terms like lord and prince to describe their status

For the most part.  But not entirely.  From Michael Powell's N.Y. Times piece about Newark's Archbishop Myers:

So many leaders of the church have served it so badly for so many decades that it’s hard to keep track of their maledictions. Archbishop Myers provides one-stop shopping. He is known to insist on being addressed as “Your Grace.” And his self-regard is matched by his refusal to apologize for more or less anything.

Mary Bergen,

Check out the Napa Institute here:

See who is on their board and see who are the prelates who support it.  Abp. Nienstedt was one of their keynoters in 2013. He was enjoying the high life while his diocese was disintegrating around him.  Apb. Chaput, who is lauded for selling his residence (because he had to pay out big settlements for sex abuse and not because of his humble poverty) hob nobs with the wealthiest Catholics in the county at the Napa gatherings.   What should we make of this ostentatiousness?  Next year one of their keynoters will be George Weigel.

The heirarchs's property is just the tip of the iceberg.  It is the lifestyle of these prelates that needs to be examined.  Playing "gotcha" with CNN misses the larger issue.

In 1990 I had the honor of visiting the little room where Monsenor Romero lived during the final years of his life.  It was located at a hospital in Salvador and was very close to the hospital chapel where he was martyred in March of 1980.  His room had a bed, a desk and a chair.  On his bed was his pastoral staff.  On the wall was a case that held his blood-stained vestments.  If I recall correctly, he had moved from the episcopal mansion to make room for some of the many refugees fleeing the violence and repression in his country.  When I observe Pope Francis, I think that he is modeling his own choice to live more simply after Monsenor Romero's example of solidarity and simplicity.  


"...Pharisaism of the very sort Jesus deplored."  OK, would you please provide examples of the words and life of Christ supporting that statement?

I believe Charles Rohrbacker's remarks pretty well nailed it.  Certainly if a man wishes to be a Catholic priest it is full time job.  And, yes, it takes very little effort to expose the naivety in that statement.  But, I argue it was in fact Romero's unwilingness to sell his naivety that made him a Catholic priest.  Is that a highminded remark, Peter?


We may be in a crossroads in history where the actual gospel may actually come through Rome. The fourth century is being changed and the Empire may go down. This paves the way for Jesus being really present in the Church. Yesterday francis lifted the suspension of a famous liberation pastor who has done marvelous work for the poor.

These are good signs. Don't let it bother that the awful congregation of the clergy just issued awful guidelines on the Kiss of Peace.

This was leftover by a weak Benedict who catered to the restorationist group on liturgy.

If I may say so, I don't find it scandalous that bishops hob-nob with wealthy donors.  Every parish pastor in the world presumably tries to do the same.  So do executives with Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic healthcare organizations, Catholic universities, and other organizations that do good work and rely on the generosity of donors to keep their doors open and their services running.  Fundraising comes with the job.  I am sure that flutes of prosecco and trays full of those little bite-size quiches make the drudgery of begging more bearable, but truth to tell, I have a hard time getting worked up about it.

Regarding the real estate: I'd think the problem of enormous residences pales in comparison to that of enormous, empty churches.  In Chicago, the pastors of some amazing neighborhood parish church buildings that would dwarf the cathedrals of many other dioceses can't afford to keep the building open nor fire up the furnace in the winter because the income from their dwindled congregations doesn't match the cost of, quite literally, keeping the lights on.  Inheriting dazzling buildings isn't always a blessing.


Jim Pauwels, Boston, where I live, seems to being doing fine at fundraising with Cardinal O'Malley living in the Cathedral rectory (instead of the palazzo that Cardinal O'Connell built in the 1920's) and with the Chancery (now called the Pastoral Center) housed in a typical three-story brick office building in a suburban business park.

As I recall,  Cardinal O"Malley never moved into the palazzo and went directly into the rectory as soon as he came to Boston. I think it was instinctive, like Francis's quick decision not to move into the Papal Apartments, and had less to do with money than a recognition that living in ostentatious surroundings didn't project the message that they both felt was important to get out.  

Cardinal Seàn is out most days interacting with laypeople face to face rather than sitting in his residence or office. His blog will give you a sense of what that is like:

Charles Rohrbacher –

Thanks for what you wrote about Archbishop Romero. In fact, he didn’t move to the hospital from an “episcopal mansion,” but I think you’ll agree that the true story is even more compelling. It’s been said that when he arrived in San Salvador in early 1977 as the new archbishop, he was offered luxurious housing but turned it down. What he did was approach a group of Carmelite nuns who he already knew, and ask if he could stay with them at their hospitalito (“little hospital,” though “hospice” might be more accurate) for people with terminal cancer.

The nuns said “yes, but . . .” – that is, they had no place to put him. Or so they thought. They might have heard about his austerity, but maybe they didn’t realized how very little he’d be happy to settle for. Behind the altar, in the chapel where, three years later, he would be murdered, was a little sacristy – “not even a room, really,” said one of the nuns. Good enough for me, said he. It was tiny and cramped, and the heat was at times unbearable. No problem.

One day the then papal nuncio, one of his harshest critics, went to the hospice looking for him. He brushed by the nuns and went charging into Romero’s “quarters,” never having been there before.

What in the world are you doing here?” he scolded Monseñor.

But it was the nuncio who was surprised, because he saw how humble Monseñor’s living space was.

 (This quote, and the ones that follow, are taken from Maria Lopez Vigil’s Monseñor Romero: Memories in Mosaic (translation by Kathy Ogle), published by Orbis Books.)

Later the nuns offered to build him a little house. One of them told me they had to negotiate with him about it – he insisted it be very simple; if it wasn’t, he said, he wouldn’t move in. A small bedroom, a room for his hammock and a room for his books. Nothing more.

“Don’t worry about painting the walls for me. It’s too much of an expense. “

But we didn’t listen to him on that point. On the first anniversary of his installation as archbishop, we gave him the keys. And he moved his things and started living there.

His insistence on simplicity was nothing new. Decades earlier, when he was a parish priest in San Miguel, wealthy parishioners took advantage of his being away on a trip and, without first consulting him, completely refurnished his room:

“. . . his little room at the parish house . . . was pretty much nothing – really poor. . . . They bought a new bed and put in these elegant curtains – really fancy ones. They changed everything! . . . .

When Father Romero returned, he was furious. He tore down the curtains and gave them to the first person he saw passing by. . . . He gave away his new bedspread, the sheets . . . everything went out! Then he returned his cot and his old chair to their old places, and put everything back in his room just the way it was before.

Gene Palumbo

thanks for your gentle correction.  Monsenor Romero's simplicity and humility as evidenced by that little room of his at the cancer hospital made a big impression on me then and now.  



A few of the houses pictured in the article look like dubious choices: modern suburban-style houses where the archbishop lives alone and that seem to be used as houses only, surrounded by a yard whose main purpose seems to be to keep the rest of the world at bay. Archbishop or not, I am always perplexed by those who prefer to live alone in an isolated setting with multiple bedrooms and baths. How many beds can one person sleep in at once? In how many rooms can he live at any one time? How much air does he need to breathe? Why so much space, why so many belongings for a single person? As the saying goes, when they die they won't take any of it with them. I cannot understand it, except as a case of misplaced priorities. But that's not really about archbishops but about people in general.

On the other hand I have no quibble with those who live in historical buildings. I see them as guardians of a place that does not belong to them but that they received from their predecessors and will pass on to their successors, obligated, to some extent, to adapt their way of life to the place, and living there is more of a burden than a privilege. If that does not prevent them from identifying with their flock, if they open their doors far and wide to their priests, visitors, and various parishioners at every opportunity, it can be downright enjoyable.

I occasionally have the chance to eat at the chancery in Paris (France), and I admit that I derive a certain enjoyment from seeing the building of Notre-Dame up close from the windows and from having a white cloth tablecloth and (until recently) white cloth napkins. Is that so bad? Is it so sinful that those archbishops and their staff have a place where to entertain their guests and give them the experience of some perks of the kind that they otherwise would never encounter?

I admire the story about Abp Romero, but admit to being a little bit unsure about the part about his tearing down the furnishings provided by his admiring parishioners. What exactly was his worry?

Jim Pauwels

As I mentioned in my first post the lifestyle of the bishops can be rationalized as you have done in your last post.  Apb. Wilton Gregory tried that a few months ago and quickly realized his mistake.  I think the point of the CNN article is to contrast American hierarchs with their leader in Rome, who does not live in a palace, and who prefers to associate with ordinary people in the places they frequent, like cafeterias, than to hang out with the powerful of the world, which he could very easily do.

John Hayes has very well pointed out how Cdl. O'Malley succeeds at raising money while living simply and associating with ordinary people.  I wonder if he succeeds with monied donors precisely bcause of those factors.

People in the pews had no idea how the funds from parish offertory collections and various diocesan-wide collections were being used.

True, still partly true, and a much bigger problem.

Jim, why reserve the flutes of prosecco and bite-size quiches to the wealthy donors, for whom it's no big deal, and not share them as well with the priests from the poorest parishes and the families of youth being confirmed? I am very, very uncomfortable with the idea of reserving privileges to the already privileged. 

The piece failed to mention that when Cardinal George announced his plan to sell the mansion, local Catholics rose up in protest. Their grandparents and great-grandparents had built the thing--some with donations and others with their own two hands. They didn't like the idea of the residence being repurposed for other residents. 

John H and Alan - please see my first comment to understand my view on the topic at hand: I believe what Cardinal O'Malley did was praiseworthy, and I've praised him for it in the past at dotCom.  (I've also praised him for it from the pulpit, fwiw).  

Until reading the comments here, I wasn't aware that Archbishop Chaput, who also belongs to a religious order, had sold off the archbishop's residence in Philly.  Unless he was under compulsion by a court to liquidate the asset, I think we give him - yes, dotCommonwealers, even Charles Chaput! - some credit for choosing a way to raise funds that meant foregoing some personal comfort and social status.  

At the time Archbishop Gregory's building project was discussed here at dotCom, I was critical of it and him.  And I agree with the distinction, made in a comment above, between inheriting a lavish historic residence and spending buckets of diocesan money to construct a new lavish residence.  I also gave Gregory credit for his subsequent change of heart and public apology.  That speaks volumes, particularly when we compare and contrast him with prelates whose instinct is to dig in their heels in the face of adverse publicity and criticism.

Claire - you're right that free drinks and munchies tend to gravitate to the people that don't really need a handout.  My assumption is that the Napa Institute is bankrolled by wealthy donors, and perhaps they would do well to read your comment and take it to heart (or perhaps they already are extremely generous to the poor; we don't really know).  My only point was that fundraising comes with the pastor's job.  And I agree completely with your point in another comment that we should think of these historic residences as diocesan assets that have been entrusted to a bishop for a time.

To all - to add just a bit to my original comment: two popular activities in this day and age are to be judgmental of others and to offer unsolicited advice on spending other people's money.  My best spiritual advice would be to be somewhat circumspect.  Peter's original post takes exactly the right attitude.


Back in February this year, some eyebrows were raised when Trinity Church in Boston (that magnificent Richardson building in Copley Square) bought for its rector and his family a $3.6 million condo on Beacon Hill (the former rectory has long been turned into church office space). Trinity, which apparently has an endowment of some $70 million, made the purchase because a) the vestry considered it a good investment; and b) they wanted the rector living near his church, and the Back Bay isn't full of bargain real estate.

But I'm not sure that many eyebrows were raised beyond Boston. Had it been a Catholic, rather than an Episcopal affair, no doubt they would have been. Perhaps it also shows that when laypeople (an Episcopal Church vestry) control church funds, they make investment decisions that some might find a bit odd (which, of course, Catholic churchmen never, never do -- well, hardly ever).

I suppose you could justify selling everything beautiful and valuable on the basis of greater need.   There is a difference between beauty and luxury or decadence, with the latter two being focused on what we might consider excessive or indulgent personal comfort, or spending money for its own sake, which is what many wealthy people do when they create their own living space.  I am rather happy someone decided that Chartres or Sainte Chapelle (as two sublime examples) were worth doing and I would prefer that they (and things like them) not be considered for sale simply because they are not sufficiently utilitarian weapons in the war on human misery.  Furthermore, it's not as if serving as a house and a museum (or opening the house for public use in other ways) are mutually exclusive. 

But I do detect a failure of self-examination on both sides: how many have despaired when the archdiocese of Boston or New York sells a beautiful but underattended parish church in a gentrified part of town to raise money? On the other side, how ridiculous does it look for that same archdiocese to bray about financial need when selling the church and then building a lavish personal residence for the bishop? 

"I think we give him - yes, dotCommonwealers, even Charles Chaput! - some credit for choosing a way to raise funds that meant foregoing some personal comfort and social status."

I understand that the digs at St. Charles Seminary, where Archbishop Chaput lives are not too shabby.  It was renovated by Cardianl Beviliacqua, not known for his austere lifestyle.

A church in Rome's Trastevere district displays the rock which St. Francis of Assisi used as a pillow when he visited.

Which suggests a wonderful gesture: let all the clergy and laity, not just Bishops, sleep on rocks and then give the money saved on pillows and mattresses to the poor.




I've been in Dolan's "mansion" and opulent is not a word I would use to describe it. Tired would be a better description. And would we really want some billionaire living in a home attached to the Cathedral? Not me.

I think you've hit the nail on the head. There is a lot of difference between the cases of NYC and Baltimore and Newark. 

There might be better ways to use these buildings that have been in the church for many years - but I agree that making them museums might not be the bast use of resources. 

I think some are aghast at the high number of rooms and the low number of full-time residents. But even that might be misleading if the guest rooms are used for visiting priests or others coming for a meeting. 


These discussions have been going on for years.  Really do need to make a distinction between the value of a building (age, heritage, usage, etc.) and what a specific bishops spends on his and his staff's daily living arrangments. (e.g. Francis on *airport bishops*).

Reality - any of these heritage rectories could be maintained by a catholic foundation or nearby catholic university so that it does not impact annual budgets, giving, etc.  (many comments appear to be short term solutions or just plain ignorant of the multiple alternatives that are available)

To just say - well, this is the way it's always been is a weak cop-out.

Any of these bishops could choose to live in an alternate setting - and, following the example of Franics, need to seriously consider that.

No one has looked at annual budgets (e.g commend Alan Mitchell's wise comments) or what the USCCB committee on finances advocates.  Dallas bishop Farrell is and has been head of this comittee for years.  Note - he believes from experience that a bishop needs an expansive personal residence in order to wine/dine big donors (he purchased a more than $1 mil home in a very nice neighborhood in Dallas for this exact purpose).   Fact - if a big donor needs to be wined/dined in a very nice setting - forget the donor.  Know plenty of donors who, in fact, are scandalized by Farrell's approach and example.  It cuts both ways.

Face it - folks such as Dolan want the opulence (even if dated); want to be in the middle of things - symbols of power and authority.  None of this has much to do with the gospel of Jesus nor setting an example.  Most powerful examples are of bishops who have turned these things on their heads and chosen to live in an apartment in a declining neighborhood; in a seminary setting; etc.

Too many comments appear to ignore this reality and provide weak excuses.

Wining and dining donors does not require your own big house.  To the extent it requires a big house or facilities of any kind, that's what your existing donors are for -- to host events and wine and dine new donors.  I can't be the only person who has attended fundraisers at the homes of affluent or wealthy people that are catered by a politician or organization or other donors.  I have also attended events with facilities and food and drink donated by restaurants or other businesses -- a local Catholic university, for instance.  It is far more typical for the supplicant to go to the donor, not the other way around. 

Just think through the psychology of this -- you invite a wealthy person to your lavish residence and then tell them how hard up you are for money?  They look around and think, "well, you seem to have enough money to build and run this opulent palace . . ."

Seriously, that is the lamest excuse I have ever heard for maintaining a big residence. 

Bill deHaas wrote: he believes from experience that a bishop needs an expansive personal residence in order to wine/dine big donors (he purchased a more than $1 mil home in a very nice neighborhood in Dallas for this exact purpose).

i wouldn't be shocked by spending a million on a house. I would be more worried if he gives the impression that he identifies with the rich rather than the poor.

Both Cardinal O'Malley, and Cardinal O'Connell who built the Cardinal's mansion in the twenties, understood that where and how you live communicates a message about you. The difference is that O'Connell wanted to convey that the immigrant Irish and Italians had become part of the decision making class in the city and he was the prince of the Church who represented them and had to be dealt with. His residence was a message to the bankers, politicians and old-time families of the city that he was an important player in their world - and he succeeded. 

By O'Malley's time, that was no longer an issue and he needed to identify with the poor and abused - so the house that was effective for O'Connell wouldn't be effective to communicate his message. 

That's why I think it isn't a matter of money. The issue is to evaluate the bishop's residence as a communications tool. If it's effective in communicating his values, fine. If if doesn't convey those values effectively (or contradicts them) then change it - get a better tool. 


A word about wealth and Christian living in general.

Peter Brown has shown that the problem of how a Christian ought to have and use wealth has quite a history. It's an eminently practical problem that confronts people of means in every era in different ways. Generally applicable guidelines are not all that easy to come by.

The temptations to extravagance and ostentation are never in short supply for those who have custody of substantial wealth. But I would take it that many people charged with prudent custody of wealth, their own or that of institutions they serve find it hard to determine just how to exercise their stewardship. I would assume that most pastors, bishops, and institutional administrators wrestle with this problem regularly.

Can we rightly say that the real outliers, the people who deserve criticism, are generally pretty obvious, but that, absent real evidence to the contrary, good sense calls for us to presume that stewards are trying to be prudent in their decisions?

There is, I think, a strong basis for saying that the leaders of Catholic institutions ought to learn and follow the kinds of guidance concerning best business practices that are taught at places like Villanova. Failure to learn and follow such practices is hard to defend. Those who do learn and follow themdeserve praise.

I would suggest that, rather than focusing on the glarig failures of some stewards, what would really make a worthwhile difference is an insistence on such "best practices." 

It appears that Pope Francis has shown the way in his dealing with Vatican finances. There is no good reason that parishes, dioceses, etc. do not follow suit.

I suspect that pound for pound, Dorothy Day (and her people) did as much to spread the Gospel and relieve the poor as any bishop does. And she chose to live in the (now vanished) low-rent districts of Manhattan, places like Sullivan Street and the Lower East Side, because that's where the folks she loved lived. It doesn't always take whopping great checks from big donors to help people in need. The centralized charity that the Church relies on may even inhibit a more generous response from ordinary Catholics.

Thank you for posting this, Peter.  While I certainly can see some question about a bishop living in a free-standing house in a wealthy neighborhood (let alone buying one now), including places like 452 Madison Avenue as examples of ecclesiastical lavishness just doesn't make sense.  Even if a house like this were sold, where would Dolan or his succesors live?  A rented apartment in Manhattan? Good luck finding one for under $3K per month.  The South Bronx? Well, maybe but since his church is the cathedral he would be commuting an awful lot.  I live in a rectory that if the property were sold now would yield probably $10 million plus.  The house itself is fairly modest.  Is it a scandal to the faithful for me and the other priests to live here?


Agreed.  This is among the flimsiest religion "stories" of the year.

And I have been in the cardinal's residence.  By no means would I call it palatial.  And to turn it into a museum is completely silly idea.  Fr Steve Avella, a fine historian, should know better

The story of Lazarus and the rich man is quite clear. Only a false prophet will explain it away. The eye of the needle story holds. Very difficult tor a  rich person to enter heaven. But the bishops and clergy still cater to them. From Jerome and Augustine to Cardinal Hayes to Spellman to Dolan. The situation is clear. Francis is working on really reforming an Empire church. Let's pray for him and not defend the infefensible. If it is worth 30 million it is worth as much as many mansions.

Many thanks to John H and Bernard for their sensible comments.

William Henry O’Connell appeared to be a bit more than a promoter of the arrival and political power of Boston Catholicism.  James M. O'Toole wrote "Militant and Triumphant: William Henry O'Connell and the Catholic Church in Boston" (1992) and "Passing for White: Race, Religion, and the Healy Family" (2002).  He posits this about His Excellency:, but to read it in full, go to:


Michael Seàn Winters on Cardinal O'Malley

This morning, we can see a different and more compelling Christian and Catholic approach to our secularized culture. At the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, Cardinal Sean O'Malley began his talk by discussing his early years as a priest working with the immigrant poor in downtown Washington, not far from the hotel where the breakfast is being held. Then, as now, O'Malley shared the poverty of those to whom he ministered. Some clerics and hierarchs make fun of O'Malley because he still wears his Capuchin habit, but the habit is a part of his way of life, a very simple life for one who has been thrust into prominence. He eats as simply as he dresses and even when proffered a very fine wine, he sticks to water. O'Malley shares a rectory with several other priests, and while I am sure he gets the family room for a meeting whenever he needs it, one does not have the sense that the life of the rectory conforms exclusively to his needs. No, it functions like most rectories as a busy place where the doorbell is frequently run, coffee cups are left in the kitchen sink, a secretary sorts the mail. Poverty and simplicity are the antidote to materialism and the secularism it brings.

O'Malley also related a story about the Capuchin provincial asking for a truly difficult assignment for the friars. They were given the missionary territory of Papua New Guinea. O'Malley relates:

Many years later, a young friar I ordained who was working in Papua New Guinea came to see me on his home visit. He had glorious pictures of smiling natives, with bones in their noses, feathers in their hair and little else in the way of clothing. He announced proudly, "This is my parish council." I was particularly intrigued because one of my own pastors had just told me that his parishioners were not ready for a parish council.

I am not in a postiion to judge Cardinal O'Malley's personal holiness.  Many folks are edified by his witness.  But, I am not so sanguine about Sean O'Malley, nor am I one of his adoring fans.

I first encountered O'Malley when he was pastoring among Latinos in Washington DC.  He always impressed me as pretentious.  Beguiled by the adulation of the Latinos he surrounded himself.  I was always put off by the rather obvious rabid personal ambition beneath that Capuchin habit.

To me O'Malley has always been an opportunist who has been the hierarchs go-to-guy to clean-up the enormous mess left behind by other hierarchs caught in really sordid scandal.  I suspect that is the same role O'Malley has assumed - or was tasked with - on the papal commission looking into the abuse scandal that Papa Francesco has formed.  Who knows?  That may be his ticket to the papacy?

To each his own ...

"People in the pews...took it on faith that the best interests of the Church were being served" This reminds me of one of the most embarrassing childhood experieces I had.In the early sixties,circa 1961 or 62, one Sunday I went to mass with my mother at the parish Church.My mother never liked going to that church[Queens of all Saints, in Bklyn.] because she said they were always asking  for money.For some reason ,I forget what, we were going to go to that church on that  Sunday.I remember feeling uneasy and hoping and praying to myself that the priest at the homily would not start talking again about money.So my mother would have a better experience of that church which i liked going to, and so she would stop saying negative things about the Catholic church which she often did at home.[Perhaps her  being from France, contributed to her criticisms of the Church,though she was thrilled with Vat. 2].Sure enough at the homily, the priest started going on and on about how the Parish  needed more contributions from the people. My mother, as he was talking, stood up and yelled out ,"You're always asking for more money,where does all this money go, why don't the poor ever get this money"? I wanted to die from embarrassment.The priest did not respond to her comment but just stopped momentarily and then continued with his sermon.I though for sure the nuns would hear of my mothers outburst and so would the rest of the neighborhood and who knows what they would say about her. She already was criticized for having a job, though a few  other mothers did too and were like wise criticized [even for eating yogurt, plain, with 2 tsps of sugar added, believe it or not, as people said yogurt  was gross]  and we were called "immigrants" like that was a dirty word. I asked Jesus to forgive her as  she means no harm to the Church.Thankfully, I did  not hear about it  in the neighborhood or at school.                                                                                                                    My mother always preferred going, not to our Parish church but a farther away small chapelsized  Polish church. We usually went there instead.I still remember there was a very  old Polish priest who presided and during the Eucharist , I still remember the absolute stillness and the radiance of the altar.I think that it was those expereience in that church of the Eucharist that made me indifferent to any Protestant denominations that don't have the Eucharist.My mother always said she liked that church because the priest there never talked  about money, he only talked about God.

What?  You honestly think the bishops spend more that $4.7 billion on "themselves and their cronies"?


From the article you cite in The Economist...


"The church is the largest single charitable organisation in the country. Catholic Charities USA, its main charity, and its subsidiaries employ over 65,000 paid staff and serve over 10m people. These organisations distributed $4.7 billion to the poor in 2010, of which 62% came from local, state and federal government agencies."


Speaking of the French Revolution, the French Martyrs of September, 150 bishops and priests, were hacked to death on Sep. 2, 1792.  They were identified with the wealhy rather than the starving.  They were seen as on the wrong side. Appearances mattered, had life and death consequences.  .     

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