Wait: Maybe There’s Another Explanation.
In anticipation of the retirement of Newark’s Archbishop John J. Myers, the Archdiocese of Newark is remodeling a Hunterdon County house which is currently his weekend residence, and which will become his full-time home in retirement. Archbishop Myers is 73 ½ years old and already has in place a coadjutor bishop, Bishop Bernard Hebda; so it’s likely that his resignation will be accepted upon his 75th birthday in 2015.
A MEDIA FRENZY
On February 17, the New Jersey Star-Ledger published a front page story criticizing Archbishop Myers because of expensive renovations to the home.
On February 20, the New York Times carried an emotional op-ed by Michael Powell titled “A Church So Poor It Has to Close Schools, Yet So Rich It Can Build a Palace.”
Other newspapers and media outlets around the country have picked up the story.
And on the Internet this week, a number of faithful Catholic bloggers reiterated the questions raised by the Star-Ledger: whether the property was too large and too expensive for one retired bishop, when there are hungry people and when schools are being closed in his archdiocese.
These negative reports have been repeated without challenge by writers who might well have questioned the fine details, given the mainstream media’s penchant for inflammatory reporting on the Catholic Church.
BUT IS THERE AN EXPLANATION FOR WHAT SEEMS AN EXTRAVAGANT EXPENDITURE ON THE PART OF THE ARCHDIOCESE?
I wondered about the veracity of the Star-Ledger‘s allegations of episcopal excess, given that newspaper’s well known animosity toward Newark’s Archbishop John Myers (they have published at least 34 articles critical of his leadership). To learn the answer to that question, I talked with Newark’s vice chancellor and director of communications Jim Goodness.
After talking at length with Mr. Goodness, I’ve concluded that the criticisms reflect the reporters’ serious misunderstanding regarding how an archbishop’s residence is used, and that the expenditure is reasonable.
But it’s not my purpose to tell you how to think.
Rather, I’d like to ask that you read the facts surrounding the planned expansion of the residence intended for Archbishop Myers’ use in retirement. Then, if you still disagree with the decision to modify the residence, please add your comments in a respectful manner. No flame-throwing, obscenity, or disrespect toward a leader of the Church will be permitted to remain in the combox.
I’ve identified several areas about which people have expressed concern, so have divided this article into several topic areas.
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WHY DOES ONE RETIRED MAN REQUIRE SUCH A SPACIOUS FACILITY?
He’s got to live somewhere! Archbishop Myers, after a lifetime of service to the Church, owns no personal property. Upon his retirement, he will move from the cathedral to a private home which will be provided for his use. The Archdiocese will retain ownership of the property, which may be sold in the future, should needs change.
The archbishop currently lives in the cathedral rectory with four other priests; and it seems likely that this new residence will also have more than one tenant, although no plans have been announced as yet.
In addition to private quarters, there is a need for space for meetings, social gatherings, and archdiocesan and other church functions. Archbishop Myers holds a number of posts within the Church, and he expects to remain active in these and other positions. For example, he serves on the board of the Catholic University of America (CUA); and as a canon lawyer, he serves on the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts., an advisory board to the Holy Father on matters of canon law.
IS THE PROPERTY TRULY EXTRAVAGANT, AS ALLEGED?
According to the Star-Ledger, the 4,500-square-foot home sits on 8.2 wooded acres in the hills of Hunterdon County. It has five bedrooms, three full bathrooms, a three-car garage and a big outdoor pool. It’s valued at nearly $800,000, but it’s (snark brought to you by the Star-Ledger) “not quite roomy enough for Newark Archbishop John J. Myers.”
The planned 3,000-square-foot addition is intended to accommodate Archbishop Myers into retirement. He suffers from serious rheumatoid arthritis, and the new wing will include an indoor exercise pool, a therapeutic hot tub, and an elevator, as well as a library and substantial office and storage space. The Archbishop’s office in the original structure was downsized when an elevator was installed in that space; the new wing will once again provide the Archbishop adequate work and study space in the home.
WHAT WILL THE RENOVATION COST THE ARCHDIOCESE?
Quick answer: Nothing. The project is being funded solely by private contributions which have been donated for this purpose.
The home which is the subject of newspaper speculation was actually purchased by the Archdiocese of Newark twelve years ago, using proceeds from the sale in 2002 of a more expensive home on the Jersey Shore. The Jersey Shore home which was sold in 2002 had a greater value than does the home which is currently being renovated, even when one includes the cost of landscaping and furnishings.
A statement released by the Archdiocese explains:
The current weekend residence and future retirement home of Archbishop Myers was purchased in 2002 with funds from the sale of a prior residence at the Jersey Shore that had been donated to the Archdiocese more than 20 years ago. The planned construction is being paid for by donations from individuals specifically given for this purpose, and through the sale of other residential properties that the Archdiocese owns but does not need. The sale of these properties is expected to not only pay for the construction, but also to return funds to the Archdiocese for other ministry uses. No parishioner funds or Archbishop’s Annual Appeal contributions are being used on this project. Similarly, no convents, schools or other Archdiocesan buildings are being sold to provide funding for this project. The Archdiocese does pay real estate taxes on this property.
HOW DOES THIS RESIDENCE COMPARE WITH THE RESIDENCES OF RELIGIOUS LEADERS IN OTHER DIOCESES?
An explanation of just how an “Archbishop’s Residence” is used may defray criticism and provide a useful framework for understanding the need for the current construction project. This is not an exhaustive review, but included here is information on archbishops’ residences from just a few dioceses in the Eastern United States.
Pittsburgh – Until 2009, the Diocese of Pittsburgh owned a Jacobethan Revival mansion along Fifth Avenue. Cardinal Wuerl lived there for two decades, as did his four predecessors. The 9,842 square foot mansion had 39 rooms including 11 bedrooms, six full baths and one half-bath, and was one of the largest homes in the Shadyside neighborhood of Pittsburgh. The property was sold for more than $2 million in 2009, when Bishop David Zubik decided to live instead at the seminary.
Chicago - In Chicago, the historic Archbishop’s Residence on North State Parkway has been a landmark since 1885. In 2002, Cardinal Francis George suggested selling the $15 million mansion to help keep the deficit-laden archdiocese from closing more schools, or help pay sexual abuse settlements. Concerned that he should live more simply, the cardinal said, ”How can I call on my priests to display humility in their lives if I’m living in a mansion like that?” When reports of the Cardinal’s interest in selling were published in 2002, there were eight people living on the property: the archbishop and several household staff members, living in the mansion, and four nuns living in the adjoining coach house. The mansion, which has been home to seven archbishops, was never sold. Pope John Paul II and President Franklin Roosevelt are among the famous personages who have spent the night there.
Buffalo – In Buffalo in 2007, some Catholics urged Bishop Edward Kmiec to sell the 11,000-square-foot bishop’s residence. The bishop’s spokesman explained the significance of the bishop’s dwelling in American Catholic life: “It’s used extensively for pastoral meetings, as well as social functions,” he explained. “There’s no other place like this where [the bishop] can conduct the kind of business that’s conducted there.”
Atlanta – The Archdiocese of Atlanta has a new archbishop’s residence in the planning phase. The Archdiocese received a property on Habersham Road in the Buckhead neighborhood as part of the bequest of Joseph Mitchell, nephew of the famous author of “Gone With the Wind.” An existing structure on the property will be razed and a new two-story Tudor home will be erected. Again, it will be a multi-use property–with the top floor containing the archbishop’s private area, along with rooms for guests. For public gatherings, such as Christmas parties and other events with parishioners and priests, the architect designed a large living room and dining rooms. There will be a chapel which can seat up to 15 people; a patio links the house with an outdoor lawn.
IS ARCHBISHOP MYERS LIKE THE GERMAN “BLING BISHOP”?
Jim Goodness responded forcefully when I raised this question: No, this is a blatantly unfair comparison.
Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, the German “bishop of bling,” was suspended by the Vatican after it was revealed that he had spent more than $42 million to renovate his luxury residence in the Diocese of Limburg.
In contrast, the Archdiocese of Newark is spending somewhere in the neighborhood of $300,000—all privately donated funds intended specifically for this renovation.
WHAT ABOUT THE CLOSINGS OF SCHOOLS? COULDN’T THE MONEY HAVE BEEN BETTER SPENT ON EDUCATION?
Some critics have complained that the Archdiocese has been closing schools. How, they ask, can you invest $500,000 into a property when you are closing Catholic schools?
People forget that in recent years, the Archdiocese has been funding education, both as part of the Archdiocesan budget and through parishes, at a rate of $15 million per year. The lion’s share of that funding—which covers costs including salaries, lighting and heating, pension and health care benefits for teachers—has come directly from the Archdiocese.
Like other large cities, Newark has faced a changing demographic; and in some neighborhoods, the number of Catholic families with school-age children has dropped sharply. In many schools, the number of students enrolled continues to decline, even as costs increase. So, Goodness explained, a school which has experienced declining enrollments and now has only 100 or 120 students enrolled can cost $300,000 per year to operate.
During the same time period, the Archdiocese, guided by the New Energies Task Force, has been successful in keeping most parishes open. The total number of parishes in the Archdiocese has declined by only ten—largely due to mergers of neighboring parishes into a single, stronger parish.
WHY DOES THE STAR-LEDGER CONTINUE TO PUBLISH DEFAMATORY ARTICLES ABOUT THE ARCHBISHOP?
One of the “sore spots” has been the Star-Ledger‘s claim that Archbishop Myers mishandled the case of Fr. Michael Fugee, a priest accused of abuse. But did he?
Archbishop Myers was among bishops gathered in Dallas in 2002, and he voted with his brother bishops to ratify the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, also known as the Dallas Charter.
Since the Charter’s implementation in 2003, auditors from StoneBridge Business Partners, specialists in investigatory and analytical business auditing, have conducted an annual on-site audit of the Archdiocese of Newark’s processes, procedures and records to determine whether it is in compliance with the provisions of the Charter. StoneBridge auditors seek to ensure that the Archdiocese will (a) ensure safe environments for children, (b) deal forthrightly and directly with allegations of abuse, (c) report allegations to public authorities, and (d) reach out to victims of abuse to help them heal.
Each year since 2003, the Archdiocese of Newark has been found to be in full compliance.
A lengthy statement on the Archdiocese’s website explains the archbishop’s actions in the case of Michael Fugee; but Jim Goodness spoke of the case in our phone conversation. In 2009, he explained, following an eight-year period during which the priest had been accused and convicted, and then having that conviction overturned by a three-judge panel, Fr. Fugee was returned to ministry. After a thorough investigation by the Review Board, and at the request of the prosecutor, Fr. Fugee was placed in hospital ministry; he was never, however, returned to parish ministry where he would have access to children. The only rooms to which he was assigned were within the Chancery offices.
This was not, as the newspaper has alleged, a cavalier reassignment. Father Fugee was asked to sign an agreement stating that he would not be involved in youth ministry. Unfortunately, three years ago that Fr. Fugee had, in fact, been involved in working with youth; and when the Archbishop learned of that last year, he immediately took steps to permanently remove Fugee from ministry. The former priest has now been laicized.
However, the Star-Ledger embarked on a campaign alleging that not enough had been done.
In response to the news coverage of the Archbishop’s Residence renovations, the Archdiocese of Newark has published a statement on its website. The full statement responding to the continuing criticism can be found here.
Okay, I’m aware that Archbishop Myers is getting beat up in the combox following this article. Some readers may have specific, first-hand information to share; most do not. There is a lot of griping about the Church going on.
So it was refreshing to wake this morning and to find Archbishop Myers cited by name in an article in the Catholic Herald, Britain’s Catholic newspaper, on the subject of vocations. “Why,” the article asks, “do some dioceses have dozens of seminarians while others have none?”
Francis Phillips, book reviewer for the Catholic Herald, discusses a book by Christopher White and Ann Hendershott with the hopeful title Renewal: How a New Generation of Faithful Priests and Bishops Is Revitalizing the Catholic Church. Phillips explains:
Studying dioceses and seminaries in the US, the authors’ theme is that dioceses that are committed to faithfulness and orthodoxy will attract young men to the priesthood. Bishops have a crucial role to play here, for “young people do not want to commit themselves to dioceses or communities that permit or simply ignore dissent from Church doctrine”.
So where do White and Hendershott look for an example of the kind of faithful orthodoxy that engenders priestly vocations? According to Phillips:
If ordinations to the priesthood are an indicator of a healthy diocese, Archbishop John Myers of Newark, New Jersey, is doing a good job. In the appendices at the back of Renewal there is a list of ordinations by diocese from 2003 to 2011. Most of them, whether large or small, and allowing for the occasional spike in the graph, have a list of low single figures. Los Angeles, surely one of the larger dioceses, had six ordinations in 2011, up from three the year before. New York had four. Washington had five.
But Newark, a humbler diocese, had 18 ordinations in 2011 and double figures for almost all the previous eight years. So what is Archbishop Myers doing right that seems to be eluding many of his fellow US bishops? The authors suggest he offers strong leadership, orthodox teaching and makes vocations a priority. As Catholic author Walker Percy, quoted by the authors, states: “All that is needed is a bearer of the Good News who speaks of it with such authenticity that it can penetrate the most exhausted hearing.”
Let us, as the people of God, continue to pray for Archbishop Myers–that he will offer the kind of spirited leadership that will inspire and guide young men and women to serve Christ’s Church with wholehearted dedication.
Archbishop Myers, like all of our Church leaders (and like us, too), is not perfect. Where he is strong, let us look to him for graced leadership. Where he is weak, let us not throw stones but instead hold him up in prayer.
In a 2008 commentary, Deal W. Hudson raised the question of whether faithful Catholics may publicly criticize bishops. Yes, he said; but his explanation, drawn from canon law, would seem to renounce the kind of episcopal excoriation going on among some commenters. Hudson explains:
Canon law contains three delicts that outline the lawfulness of responsible criticism of an ordinary. In my view, canon law does condone criticism, but within the boundaries of respect for authority and the principle of unity in communion.
The first canon acknowledges the right and duty to make “matters” known to pastors and, if deemed necessary, to others in the Catholic community.
Can 212§3. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.
It’s important to note that this canon specifies that any comment regarding a bishop be made in “reverence.” Journalistic tone often matters as much as the substance.
The second canon specifies a recognition that any lay expertise, including journalism, should be exercised with “the spirit of the gospel” and within the Church’s Magisterium.
Can. 227. The lay Christian faithful have the right to have recognized that freedom which all citizens have in the affairs of the earthly city. When using that same freedom, however, they are to take care that their actions are imbued with the spirit of the gospel and are to heed the doctrine set forth by the magisterium of the Church. In matters of opinion, moreover, they are to avoid setting forth their own opinion as the doctrine of the Church.
Finally, the third canon explicitly warns against anyone going to extremes by stirring up anger and hostility toward a bishop or the Holy Father. Hostile journalism can earn ecclesial punishment, which I am told came close to happening against a well-known Catholic newspaper several years ago.
Can. 1373. A person who publicly incites among subjects animosities or hatred against the Apostolic See or an ordinary because of some act of power or ecclesiastical ministry or provokes subjects to disobey them is to be punished by an interdict or other just penalties.