Catholic Bishop: Nice Work If You Can Get It

Pope Francis has put a focus on ending the opulence of the Catholic Church, refusing to stay in the dazzling Papal apartment and staying in a small suite in a guest house instead. He’s even fired one bishop who built a mansion for himself worth more than $40 million. But it appears he needs to clean house on American bishops too.

But are American archbishops following Francis’ lead?

A CNN investigation found that at least 10 of the 34 active archbishops in the United States live in buildings worth more than $1 million, according to church and government records.*

That’s not counting hundreds of retired and active Catholic bishops in smaller cities, some of whom live equally large.

Among archbishops, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York leads the pack with this 15,000-square-foot mansion on Madison Avenue, in one of the priciest corridors of Manhattan.

Vanderbilt Appraisal Company, a New York firm hired by CNN to estimate the building’s value, said it’s worth at least $30 million. Dolan shares the neo-Gothic mansion, which is reportedly filled with thick red carpets and priceless antiques, with three other priests.

Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George lives in a pretty fancy crib, too.

This mansion has 19 chimneys and sits on 1.7 acres of prime real estate in Chicago’s ritzy Gold Coast neighborhood. It’s worth $14.3 million “as is,” but the property could fetch far more, appraisers told CNN.

The Catholic Church does a lot of good work in helping the poor, running thousands of soup kitchens, homeless missions and food banks. But think how much more they could do without this outrageous spending?

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  • Chiroptera

    C’mon. It’s hard work hatin’ gays and women. Surely these guys deserve a little pampering?

  • http://zenoferox.blogspot.com/ Zeno

    Besides, the bigger the house the easier it is to have choirboys slip into a side entrance unobserved.

  • Alverant

    Think of the lawsuits they could settle. Yet they whine about poverty as an excuse to close down schools and those soup kitchens, homeless missions, food banks, etc.

  • Kevin Kehres

    I’d have zero problem with the bishops living like they do in the places they live in…as long as they paid property taxes and/or didn’t take any parsonage allowance on their income taxes.

    When I’m subsidizing their lifestyle by paying taxes that they don’t — well, that gets me a bit peeved.

    Level the playing field. How many teacher salaries could be paid if just the Catholic Church did the right thing and paid property taxes?

  • parasiteboy

    When I was growing up and catholic it always seemed strange to me that the Jesus I was taught was kind, loving and helped the poor, but we celebrated mass with a lot of gold in a ginormous church that was only ever filled on the major holiday’s. It wasn’t until I got a bit older that I realized that all of this was to show how rich, and by proxy the power of the catholic church. It’s all for show.

  • hunter

    This is the traditional Church, the bishops living like Renaissance princes.

    We’ll see how successful Francis is in reigning them in — if he manages to do anything before someone slips something into his sacramental wine.

  • whheydt

    Can’t speak specifically to the places mentioned, but it might be worthwhile to compare the bishops digs to other housing in the cities being looked at. In San Francisco it is hard to find decent houses that *don’t* cost over $1 million.

    (Not, you understand, that I am defending $30 million, 15K sq. ft. mansions full of art and antiques. It’s just that the “$1 million” threshold needs to be tempered with considering the location and local housing prices. I do agree with Mr. Kehres, above, that these places ought to be subject to property taxes, if only because they are using the same public services that any other dwelling does. But, then, I think that churches should be classed as corporations and taxed accordingly.)

  • Konradius

    Yeah, like that would make up for his approval of exorcism some time ago.

    This really is a PR pope, and I hate his ability to get ‘news’ rubbish like this in, in stead of the multitude of abuse stories there are out there.

    I mean, just Ireland alone…

  • http://www.facebook.com/den.wilson d.c.wilson

    But if each diocese doesn’t have multiple millions of dollars worth of material assets, how will they be able to pay for the silence of all of their victims of child rape?

  • geocatherder

    I agree with whheydt, 1 million dollars doesn’t buy much in some communities. And everyone ought to be able to have carpeting, even if their taste is awful. But $30M? 15,000 square feet? Art and antiques? Really? They could swap these things out for a nice house, get the art and design students at the local Catholic college to decorate it, and put the savings into the soup kitchen and Catholic Charities without any loss in real comfort. Though the art students might have more to say about social justice than they care to see…

  • Ben P

    (Not, you understand, that I am defending $30 million, 15K sq. ft. mansions full of art and antiques.

    Actually, I would defend the $30 million home filled with art and antiques more than some of the homes listed there.

    Timothy Dolan’s residence (which is the $30 million residence referenced), is directly attached to St. Patrick’s Cathedral (the cathedral where Dolan serves,) and in addition to the Cardinal and three priests living there, it houses church offices and spaces for church business. It’s essentially a church owned building where Dolan lives, the church constructed the building almost 150 years ago, the church likely owns almost all the furnishings, and Dolan is obligated to allow much of it to be used for church business. The building is also on the historical register. That’s a bit like criticizing Obama for living in the White House. Sure, it’s a great living for Dolan, but he’s living in a functional equivalent of a public building.

    Some of the other homes are far less defensible in my opinion.

    The archbishop of Miami lives with a personal assistant in a six bedroom six bath house overlooking Biscayne Bay in Miami, the house has a pool and waterfront space. It’s not clear it’s otherwise used for church business.

    The Archbishop of COnneticut lives in a $3 million mansion out far away from any church offices.

    The archbishop of san antionio lives in a luxury 5000 sq foot house built in 2009 for 1.1 million.

    Likewise the archbishop of Cincinnati lives in a luxury 4 bedroom 4 bathhouse built in 2009 for several million.

    It’s luxurious certainly, but I think it’s defensible for a high church officer to live in private apartments in what functionally amounts to a large ceremonial residence also used for church business. On the other hand, constructing new, solely residential structures for a bishop to occupy is much less defensible in my mind.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_R2XG9CnOj8 Olav

    Ed:

    But think how much more they could do without this outrageous spending?

    To be fair, I don’t think they ever paid the amounts as mentioned. So the spending could still be quite modest. Those sums are just what the buildings would perhaps be worth if they were ever put on the market.

    Of course there is no excuse for them not to sell off their most valuable real estate and do something useful with the money. For all I care that includes their churches and cathedrals. But that is another matter.

  • dingojack

    Too bad the Vicar of Satan* doesn’t get paid nearly as well.

    Dingo

    ———

    * a.k.a. Mikey Weinstein.

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org Area Man

    I’m curious as to how this money gets appropriated. When a bishop “built himself” a $40 million mansion, what did he do, send a requisition form to the Vatican? Or do individual bishops have absolute control over the funds that flow into their accounts from local parishes?

  • cptdoom

    @14 – Area Man – As I remember it, bishops are pretty much dictators in their diocese. Nearly all the collections at Mass are used to fund the immediate needs of the parish and then the diocese, then there are numerous collections for other projects, including an annual appeal to pay for the Vatican’s costs. There’s little, if any, oversight of spending.

    It’s also important to remember that priests do not take a vow of poverty. Unless Franciscans, like the current Bishop of Rome, or women religious (nuns and sisters) or friars, regular priests are free to earn and spend what they can.

  • http://cheapsignals.blogspot.com Gretchen

    It’s also important to remember that priests do not take a vow of poverty.

    “Hey, I never said I wouldn’t live in obscene luxury while delivering unto the people God’s word on love and compassion for the suffering of others….”

  • b8ovin

    Stalwart defender of all things Catholic, Bill Donohue, has weighed in calling the network president at CNN a hypocrite for also living in a mansion. Because television executive and Catholic bishop are the same thing.

  • jaytheostrich

    How much credit should Francis get for not living in the Papal apartments anyways, if they’re still maintained in living conditions anyways? Now if they sold it off for money to give to the poor, I’d be much more impressed, but I’m sure it’s still in similar condition as it would be if he WAS living in it.

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    Maybe they could sell Castle Gandolfo – and Benny the Rat could stay in a guest house, too? They could use the money to “save some souls” or buy some legislators who’d vote against contraception or something ‘useful’ like that.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    Nice work if you can get stomach it.

  • hunter

    whheydt @7

    The Archbishop’s residence in Chicago sits on the north end of some of the most expensive real estate in the city, the Gold Coast. It faces north toward Lincoln Park, which starts across the street. I would guess that apartments start at a couple of million on that stretch of North Avenue.

    Now, in Cardinal George’s defense (and I can’t tell you the reaction I’m having to defending a man who likened Chicago’s Gay Pride parade to a KKK march), it’s not his — it’s the official residence. Nor do I know what it houses in the way of church offices, etc., although I wouldn’t be surprised to find that at least a portion of it is devoted to Church business. I might add that Holy Name Cathedral and the attached school are in the same general neighborhood.

    But then, the Archdiocese could always sell that property to a developer and find other, although not equally lavish, accommodation for the Archbishop and offices.

  • captain_spleen

    “How much credit should Francis get for not living in the Papal apartments anyways, if they’re still maintained in living conditions anyways?”

    He gets some credit for living in the same building as (much?) lower-ranking church functionaries. I think he lives in the hotel of sorts built for visiting priests and such to stay at when at the Vatican.

    “Now if they sold it off for money to give to the poor”

    It’s in the middle of the Vatican so the market would be a bit weird, like valuing an apartment in the Tower of London or in the Kremlin. Plus there would be security issues, and the risk of a buyer doing embarrassing things like filming porn. Or worse. And the place pretty much automatically has some degree of historical interest value. Charging tourists for tours of the living quarters would make more sense.

  • captain_spleen

    “But then, the Archdiocese could always sell that property to a developer and find other, although not equally lavish, accommodation for the Archbishop and offices.”

    Realistically, they’d probably still be buying in Manhattan or pricey areas of Chicago. And they aren’t likely to buy a loft condo or a studio apartment. I expect the buildings get used for social events and fundraisers and such with deep-pocketed donors and high-ranking civic leaders. So a similar building would be purchased, that could reasonably host such events. And that’s going to eat up a lot of the proceeds of the sale of the old building. Especially in Manhattan.

  • dingojack

    RE: selling property to fund charity.

    Realistically, you could easily end up with a situation like this.

    Dingo

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    Nearly all the collections at Mass are used to fund the immediate needs of the parish and then the diocese

    There’s an old joke in which some religious leaders are discussing how they divide up the collection – what’s spent on church operations and what’s spent on the poor. And the punchline is the one that says “I throw the collection plate in the air and the lord takes a portion for the poor and drops the rest for me.”