Everything That’s Wrong with the American Episcopacy…

summed up in a single headline:

A Church So Poor It Has to Close Schools, Yet So Rich It Can Build a Palace

The amazingly out-of-touch folly of American bishops is incredible to behold sometimes.  No wonder people respond so strongly to the Real Deal when they see it in Francis.  The sheer relief of meeting a shepherd who thinks and acts like a shepherd and not like a bureaucrat with a taste for brandy is volcanic.

Memo to Bp Myers: the phrase was “a Church that is poor and for the poor” not “a Church that is impoverished by the pampered and incompetent”.


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  • Daniel Nichols

    When I was in seminary 25 years ago Bishop Myers, then of Peoria, was considered a rising star in the movement to return the American Church to orthodoxy. Time has shown that there is a lot more to real Catholicism than doctrinal correctness.

    • IRVCath

      True. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

  • King Richard

    Mater Dei Academy (which became Mater Dei Academy 5 years ago) was closed because enrollments were down so far that it could not be sustained. Much like thousands of schools in Western Christendom previous generations simply didn’t have enough children to fill them to a minimum level. The fact that Catholics are not being open to life may rest ultimately with the Bishop but the parishioners who refuse to be open to life must bear some level of responsibility, too.
    In simpler terms, the two events are unrelated to one another – conflating them is an error.

    • Elaine S.

      Or maybe the tuition costs got so high that parishioners who WERE “open to life” couldn’t afford to send their children there? That, to me, is one of the biggest Catch-22s in Catholic education: the cost of running schools is so high anymore (lay teachers have to be paid a reasonable wage, buildings have to meet stricter codes, computer equipment is a must, etc.) that it indirectly, and probably unintentionally, prevents those families who are most “open to life” from taking advantage of it. (Don’t even get me started on what happens when one or more of those children has special needs that Catholic schools can’t, or won’t, accomodate.)

      • Faithr

        This was an unintended consequence of the breakdown of religious teaching orders. It is much easier to charge lower tuition when the school is run by sisters who have dedicated their lives to Christ by taking vows of poverty and are devoted to teaching children. We are our sisters back!

        • Michelle

          These days, religious sisters need a living wage as much as anyone else. Religious communities must be self-supporting and depend on the wages that their active members earn to support those members who are too ill or otherwise too frail to work anymore.

          I’m afraid too many orthodox Catholics have a rosy view of the pre-Vatican II teaching sisters, and don’t understand that things have changed for them (even those who are orthodox) as for anyone else.

          • Catholic Fast Food Worker

            Michaela, no, most the sisters actually did taught out of love of Christ & the Kingdom’s children (it’s not a “pre-V2” rosy view). Most sisters actually did enter the orders NOT expecting a living wage (most even took poverty vows); they did it as a Sacrifice, out of their love of the vocation, sacrificial love. (I don’t want to sound as a rich person who opposes “living wages”; I wholeheartedly support them as one who actually gets paid “minimum wage” & even if I never see my wage increased, it’ll be a happy day if the next generations & even my own co-workers’s wages will increase.)

            • Heather

              I think the point was that even people who take vows of poverty have bills to pay. Buildings need to be heated/cooled, food and other necessities need to be purchased, elderly and sick sisters need medical care, vehicles need gas and maintenance, etc. Even someone with a vow of poverty can’t subsist on nothing but fresh air and sunshine.
              Whether they take direct wages or whether it goes into the communal pot for the whole convent, those teaching sisters would still need to be paid.

          • IRVCath


            The picture before the Council was not that rosy, even compared with the picture thereafter, they just had different problems.

      • Catholic Fast Food Worker

        Elaine S., I completely agree with your analysis. And I’d also add that another foundational block of Catholic education collapsed in the ’70s which made Catholic education’s quality decline & costs skyrocket: the replacement of NUNS (& some Friars) with LAY Teachers. This was probably the worst change in USA Catholic Education.
        Sisters, come back to our parishes & parish schools! We miss you so much! 40 yrs ago my city in the Bible Belt had 3 Catholic parishes with convents & all. 20 yrs ago, they were all consolidated into 1 parish only. Ten years ago, my parish (which also has school) had 3 nuns & 2-3 priests. NOW: No nuns, dwindling Mass attendance, & only 1 priest. We need a Revival, nationally but also locally.

        • BillyT92679

          So many sisters, especially, but also religious brothers too, are hardly what one would call orthodox. Honestly, I would not say having lay teachers has been anywhere near as bad as having bad religious teachers

      • Yeargh

        It could also be that the religious education offered is atrocious. I would not be willing to pay for Sr. Denise to teach that Adam and Eve represented a group of people, and that’s a mild example from my own parochial school education in the ’80s.

    • MarylandBill

      I don’t think anyone disputes that it is sometimes necessary to close down schools due to lack of enrollment. But as Elaine S. pointed out, the costs of Catholic Education are also getting to the point where it is often not possible for parents to send their kids to Catholic Schools.

      The point of the article is that Bishop Myers is not exactly doing much to help the poorer schools in the parish when he is using church funds to pay for improvements to his “vacation” home.

      I understand the main residence of a Bishop might need to be fairly large to handle social functions, and also that a Bishop might need a spot he can get away from the burdens of his post. But does a bishop really need a mansion as a second home (or a retirement home when he retires?).

    • Debra

      There’s more to it than the number of children Catholics are having. Those of us who have more, can’t afford Catholic school tuition. And here, they’d rather stock the school with Protestant students whose parents can pay full tuition than help Catholics whose finances are spread too thinly to cover tuition times 3, 4, or 5 to keep their keeps in the Catholic school.

      • anna lisa

        Exactly. We had to pull all of our kids out because we just couldn’t afford it any more. When my husband was out of work, I offered our local Catholic H.S $600 per month for our daughter to go there rather than to the H.S. with the gangs. I walked out of that office crying because they said “no”. The dean of the school told me, the mother of eight children, that I could “do better than that”. My daughter ended up getting better than a 4.0 at the public school, but other than a little CCD, and our training, she never had any Christian friends, and I can see how this has affected her Catholic faith.

    • irena mangone

      It’s easy to say Catholics are not having dozens of children it costs money to support children In some places they have so many children the fathers sell their daughters into prostitution is that what you want. Catholic schools cost money n Australia, in England there are private catholic schools for which you pay but there are also free ones you will have to check that out as to the reason for two tier catholic schools I guess those with money always choose private . In Australia there are all fee paying Catholic schools

  • Elaine S.

    This whole story and the quote about the “hot tub” really being a whirlpool sounds eerily familiar. There was a similar flap in Peoria back in the early ’90s when Bp. Myers had the bishop’s residence extensively and rather lavishly remodeled to include a bathtub with whirlpool jets that was also described in the local press as a “hot tub”. This occurred not long after a controversial decision to merge two Catholic high schools in Peoria.

    Yes, I too remember when Bp. Myers was sort of a wunderkind among conservative/traddie Catholics because of his success in recruiting new priests (there were a few years in the 1990s when Peoria ordained as many or more new priests as Chicago or New York) and his zeal for orthodoxy (he was one of the first bishops, that I can recall, who made national news for issuing a pastoral letter insisting that there “can be no such thing as an authentic pro-choice Catholic”). He was moved to Newark right after 9/11 and there was a lot of speculation about where he could go from there. Looks like he ain’t going anywhere now.

    • I remember those events vividly. My dad still hasn’t forgiven him for closing Spalding.

    • kag1982

      There were also major abuse scandals in both Peoria and Newark on Myers’ watch, so one has to wonder about the quality of the priests recruited.

      • Heather

        That would only be relevant if those scandals were related to priests actually recruited on his watch. I have no idea of the details of those particular cases, but have rarely heard of a scandal involving a recently ordained priest. Usually the rot doesn’t show up until years and years later.

        • kag1982

          Myers was involved in covering up the scandal. I think that we should evaluate any other personnel decisions that he made through that lens.

      • Elaine S.

        The major abuse scandals of the late 1990s and early 2000s in Peoria mostly involved older priests ordained in the 1950s and 1960s, with the alleged incidents of abuse generally taking place between, roughly, 1960 and 1985. They did NOT involve more recently ordained priests (at least up to 2004; I moved away from the diocese the following year and have not kept up on the news so if there are cases involving the “newer” priests feel free to add them.

  • Dan C

    Haiti’a first Cardinal:


    Nicaraugua’s cardinal-designate:


    This is the future leadership of our Church. This is the good news.

    So many better things to focus on.

  • Spastic Hedgehog

    It’s interesting because this type of thing ends up being biting the hand that feeds you. This is my parents’ diocese and they are livid. They are so angry they won’t donate to diocesan appeals as long as he has the chair. I’m sure they aren’t the only ones.

  • UAWildcatx2

    I think it’s stories like this, plus the one about the Bishop in Germany, that drive home the point that men run the Church, but do not make the Church.

    • Alma Peregrina

      I disagree, I think it is the other way around: the Church is made by men, but they’re not who ultimately runs the Church.

      • UAWildcatx2

        That’s a great point, with a caveat – Christ made the Church, and Christ runs the Church, with the Holy Spirit and the Father. I probably should have said “it drives home the point that men are custodians of the Church.”

  • Procopius

    It’s a great shame when Hell’s Bible justly criticizes the Church: Ruined my day

  • Vincent S.

    Um, Mark don’t you know that as a “professional Catholic” you are never to criticize the hierarchy? Otherwise your super-high-paying job at the Register will be taken away from you…

  • Mark R

    It is probably cheaper to build a tacky McMansion like this than to run a school. I thought the trend was going against this sort of thing, with bishops taking rooms at chanceries instead. I guess some bishops interpret the modest orthodox revival in the Church to mean they can get away with this sort of thing. Catholic private high schools — I went to one. If they are not actually Catholic, what good are they? They are expensive, poorly supplied, and there is no network or cachet that a well establshed preppy-type school woukd give.

  • On the contrary. The article evidences poor reasoning. It never asks why the renovations are being done? It presumes they are unnecessary. Based simply on what’s referenced in the article it sounds like it’s being made to help the bishop and future bishops in their infirmity. This is far from opulence.

    Also, the money spent (roughly half a million dollars) is nowhere enough to keep a school running. The situation the article sets up is a string of non sequitur arguments. It strings a catholic school, the bishop’s residence, the miss management of a priest, and (the worst offense) ecclesiastical titles, together as de facto proof that this is an evil bishop only concerned with his own comfort. Not only is this illogical, it’s rubbish. This is simply a smear piece written for emotional effect instead of rational discourse. It’s the baser form of rhetoric.

    Bishops have an impossible job. People say that the Bishops need to be pastors and not managers. But, when they manage things poorly they are criticized for not being good managers. They are told to be fathers to their priests. But, when they don’t follow best business practices when managing clergy they are criticized. And(!) when they try to manage the priests they are called tyrants They are criticized for not following the advice of putative experts. But, when they do, they are criticized for following the advice of experts instead of relying on God’s guidance. They are told that they shouldn’t worry about building institutions but that they should focus on building community. But, when they reduce institutional obligations in their respective Sees they are criticized. They are told all sorts of things about the liturgy and they can’t ever please anyone there. They are either called modernists or traditionalist relics based simply on whether they wear their pectoral cross inside or outside of their chasuble. They can’t win no matter what they do.

    Also, what ever happened to piety? Do we catholics, who claim to be faithful, address our Bishops with loving piety? Are we thankful for the fact that we have Bishops at all? I’d submit that we don’t. We forget that these men are the successors of the Apostles. Do we not desire their good? Do we not desire to provide them with what they need, especially in their infirmity? Are they not worthy of our mercy when they fail? Without the local priest, without the religious, without you or me the Church persists. Without the Bishops, there is no Church. As St. Ignatius of Antioch reminds us, “Where there is the Bishop, so there is the Church.” Do we even consider that?

    No bishop is perfect. It’s God’s will that His Church is governed by sinners. But, their imperfection is no excuse for throwing them under the bus unjustly. But regardless of failings they may have, we owe them, by virtue of our Baptism, both love and obedience. Perhaps if we were kinder to our Bishops, if we actually expressed care for them, then maybe we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. But instead the new “clericalism,” it seems, is exercised by the laity. I’m positive that this is not what Vatican II had in mind, and I’m pretty sure that this critique, at it’s heart, is rooted in Americanism.

    I’m not advocating for no criticism at all for those things that are in need of critique. I’m saying that if there is need to critique it shouldn’t be based on flimsy evidence, or personal preferences, or cloaked resentment. And, it sure the heck shouldn’t be an ad hominem attack. This article lacks the virtue of fraternal charity. Without this virtue it serves no purpose in the economy of salvation.

    • Michelle

      Brother, that’s a very stirring defense of a bishop who is entitled to be supported by his diocese in his retirement by a religious brother who is entitled to be supported by his community when he is too ill or too frail to work anymore. Now, please, let’s see a defense of diocesan priests who must fund their own retirements *on their own* with their own savings, and who sometimes must live in abject poverty when they are no longer able to earn their keep at a parish rectory by saying Mass or hearing confessions.

      Sorry, but I have absolutely NO sympathy for Abp. Myers here. Even if the money he is spending on his own personal retirement home could not save the Catholic school in question, the million and change being poured into this residence would have made a significant contribution toward an endowment to assist retired priests in Newark.

      • I agree with what you have said about those poor priests. I know a number of them. But, one injustice does not allow us to inflict another. Rather, what we ought to do is help remedy the injustice being inflicted upon those noble men who take on the heroic role of being a diocesan priest.

    • Andy

      Bishops, priests – those of the clerical and religious state lead not just by words, but also by example. What example is the bishop setting with this construction? A poorer church for the poor does not seem to have entered into his view of the world?
      By the way when I retire my wife and I cannot call on a diocese to rebuild our house or any house to make it easier for us to continue with our lives. Sheesh!

      • Andy, you are correct. But, let’s not forget that we have an obligation from God to care for the material needs of the Church and her clergy as articulated in the Scriptures according to our means and the needs of the Church. The clergy have an obligation to steward those goods well. However, it is for them to determine how those goods are used. If they sin in administering those goods, then God will not let it go unpunished.

        • Andy

          Indeed Brother – there is a need to steward these oohs well, and most of the clergy are not business men, that is not their calling – their calling is to be shepherd and to live with the sheep. I am not suggesting the bishop should retire to poverty or the like, but to add to an already large house, to request money from the diocese which if it is like the one where my wife and I live is already cash stressed seems to be highly inappropriate.
          It strikes me that the clergy should consult with those who have the calling for business when making these decisions.

  • PerpetualMalcontent

    Mark, uhmm, with due respect, this news came from a secular media source. You know, deduct 50 IQ points and all that.

    • chezami

      Great. Explain how this is a really wise move.

  • Elmwood

    i always have had a hard time reconciling the church’s call for big catholic families and their call for catholic education. the GOP (and democrats) has done an excellent job making the middle class poorer and the rich richer over the last 15-25 years. i have seen very little effort on the church’s part to keep catholic education costs affordable.

    i would hope the church would be on the poor’s side and do everything possible to make primary and secondary catholic education affordable for all catholics, and not just the well off. not everyone is cut out for home schooling.

    • UAWildcatx2

      I’m with you – the school attached to my parish charges $4,800 per year for one child. The local Catholic high school charges $8,400 per year for tuition, with an addition $300 activity fee for underclassmen. This fee jumps to $450 for seniors. That’s only $3,000 less than the in-state tuition for the University located here, too, which is around $11,000, with fees. PLUS, there are staff at both the elementary and high schools that hold decidedly non-Catholic beliefs (pro-gay “marriage”, pro-contraception, etc). I don’t understand why the American diocese-culture prefers this form of education, yet lets people’s children be subject to these heterodox positions.

      • Kate Bluett

        Are you sure it’s “the Church”? My parish just opened a school last year ($8,500 per child, per year). It was a decision made at the diocesan level, with heavy pushing from my parish. It is struggling to stay open (30 students, last I heard). The Church wants children educated as Catholics; in America, this has come to mean Catholic schools, but the official teaching is that is should come from the parents. Maybe it’s not “the Church” that pushes Catholic schools. Maybe it’s American Catholic culture.

        • UAWildcatx2

          You know what, you’re absolutely right about it being an American Catholic culture thing. My parish urges parochial school over public, but it’s definitely at the parish level. Just edited my previous post.

        • Elmwood

          insofar as a catholic education corresponds to my convictions, i would say yes, “the Church” pushes for catholic schools:

          2229 As those first responsible for the education of their children, parents have the right to choose a school for them which corresponds to their own convictions. This right is fundamental. As far as possible parents have the duty of choosing schools that will best help them in their task as Christian educators.38 Public authorities have the duty of guaranteeing this parental right and of ensuring the concrete conditions for its exercise.

    • Athelstane

      Certainly some dioceses (and independent Catholic schools) could do more to make education affordable, especially with multi-child discounts (because, you know, we’re supposed to be open to life). I know my diocese actually tried to do away with that completely recently (the new bishop reversed course).

      But when we lost the dedicated low cost labor force of women religious once religious life went crazy in the late 60’s, our schools had to shift rapidly to a mostly lay teacher workforce. And laity require more pay. Especially if we’re taking Catholic teaching on proper compensation of employees seriously. That money has to come from *somewhere*. Teachers have to eat, too.

      And that does not even get into the contraceptive culture. With far fewer Catholic children being born, there are fewer to attend these schools. The laity have to share some of the blame, at least in the aggregate.

      • IRVCath

        The reason for the religious shortage actually goes much earlier than the 60s. The reason is that religious have a specific charism. But bishops kept putting in schools orders whose mission really had little to do with teaching schools. Then when the Vatican told them to get back with their charism, and when they found out it was not part of their charism to run Catholic schools (or at least certain kinds of them)… The initial loads of teaching religious were supposed to be provisional measures that ended up being more than provisional.

        Of course, that only explains part of the collapse – unfortunately some of the teaching orders in some places lost sight of their charism entirely, and we get essentially prep schools for the wealthy with a patina of fake piety, like that school in Seattle lately.

      • Elmwood

        We have shifted from the cultural Catholicism of immigrants to more of a Catholicism based on convictions. Not to mention that more Catholic women go to college than in the past and pursue careers outside of the convent.

        The middle class is currently in a big squeeze of rising living costs and flattening wages because of “trickle-down wealth” economics. I get mail asking to donate money to Dominican sisters that run secondary schools for the rich: $15,000+ for tuition. Why would I give them any money when I can’t afford Catholic school for my children? The church can do a lot more to bring down tuition. For one, they can ask the wealthiest to generously donate to these schools rather than colleges.

        As it is, my children are in the public school system which btw is being continuously being attacked by selfish reactionary conservatism.

        • Athelstane

          For one, they can ask the wealthiest to generously donate to these schools rather than colleges.

          That’s a good point.

          As it is, my children are in the public school system which btw is being continuously being attacked by selfish reactionary conservatism.

          Frankly, with good cause, and not just by selfish reactionary conservatism, unless you mean to include our host Mr. Shea under that umbrella (you have doubtless seen his his ongoing “Reason#_ _ _ _ _ _ to Homeschool” series).

          This is not to say that a public school is always a bad idea for Catholic parents, but in a great many areas, it has become a gravely problematic one.

          • Elmwood

            my only point in defending public education, as imperfect as it is, is that there are few practical alternatives for the vast majority of middle class and poor families. the catholic church doesn’t offer any alternatives unless you are a star athlete from the inner city.

            home schooling isn’t for every family, that much should be obvious. ironically, it was the catholic church in our nation which is partially responsible for our secularized public education system.

  • Mark S. (not for Shea)

    It’s a completely valid point and not at all restricted to the New Jersey diocese. If you want an interesting take on this, read Peggy Noonan’s book on John Paul II. She actually confronted a bishop with this issue face-to-face. The reaction she got was … well, I guess I’d say less than optimal.
    Catholic schools and churches are closing across the nation, yet our bishops continue to live in manors. Something is very VERY wrong with that.

  • Mark S. (not for Shea)

    Over 10 years old now, but still valid. Read this: http://www.bishop-accountability.org/resources/resource-files/timeline/2003-09-15-Noonan-WhatITold.htm


    Here’s the relevant bit:


    Anyway, I regained my composure and concluded my remarks with some hard advice. I said the leaders of the church should now–“tomorrow, first thing”–take the mansions they live in and turn them into schools for children who have nothing, and take the big black cars they ride in and turn them into school buses. I noted that we were meeting across the street from the Hilton, and that it would be good for them to find out where the cleaning women at the Hilton live and go live there, in a rent-stabilized apartment on the edge of town or in its suburbs. And take the subway to work like the other Americans, and talk to the people there. How moved those people would be to see a prince of the church on the subway. “They could talk to you about their problems of faith, they could tell you how hard it is to reconcile the world with their belief and faith, and you could say to them, Buddy, ain’t it the truth.”

    I didn’t know if this had hit its mark until the meeting was over, when an intelligent-looking and somewhat rotund bishop spoke to me as I waited for a cab. I was trying to rush to the airport and make the next shuttle home. He said, “I’d give you a ride but I don’t have the limo!” I laughed. Now I think perhaps I should have said, “You will.”

    I was asked privately after my speech if I meant to suggest the church should divest itself of its beautiful art and cathedrals and paintings and gold filigree. No way. We are neither Puritan nor Protestant; Catholicism is, among other things, a sensual faith, and it is our way to love and celebrate the beautiful. Moreover, regular people have as much access to this finery as the rich and powerful. But the princes of our church no longer need to live in mansions in the center of town. Those grand homes were bought and erected in part so the political leaders of our democracy would understand the Catholics have arrived. But they know it now. The point has been made.

  • Andrew

    The LA Archdiocese is currently running its annual appeal to help poor schools and parishes. A very worthy project. The amount they want to raise, $13m.

    Meanwhile the other day, front page of LA Times. Archdiocese reaches settlement with victim of pervert priest, awarded, you guessed it, $13m.

  • anna lisa

    We have a family friend that taught religion at our local Catholic high school. I went to school with him. His brother is a priest. Three generations of my family have gone to that school. When our friend taught his students about Mother Teresa, he was fired for being “too Catholic” for the tastes of their student body that is more than 50% non Catholic. He had been warned on several occasions to keep his themes light and palatable to your average family, that has no interest in Catholic piety, or theology. They were afraid he would drive away tuition dollars. Our friend is a father of seven young children and was given his walking papers last week. They couldn’t even wait until the end of the semester. Please pray for him. His wife was able to speak personally with Archbishop Gomez. I don’t think that the school has the right to call itself Catholic, and we are all watching to see if anything will be done about such an injustice.

  • The Reformation was caused not so much because people believed in Protestantism, but because for almost 2 centuries, we saw rotten Church leadership, from parish priest to pope. The Church had mostly lost its sense of being a religious organization during that time, finding it far more profitable to focus on secular politics instead.

    That’s applicable to today. The errors of society will be judged as errors, but the behavior of the worldly prelates has helped create the secular atmosphere we now see in the Church, a Church which faces institutional collapse, and in some areas that collapse long ago happened.

    • Dave G.

      Well said. I remember a professor of Church History once said that if you looked at Catholic civilization in the 15th century, the Reformation was a very Catholic event. Something to think about.

      • Of course the Protestants were quite wrong, and even as bad as the papacy might have been in political machinations, there’s no doubt they were a valuable check on a lot of despots and tyrants. Once Protestantism was an option, many such people were no longer constricted.

        It took until the Counter-Reformation for real and substantial reform to happen within the Church. Europe hasn’t really figured out a better check on local despots than the Vatican though. The EU is their latest attempt, and while no longer going to collapse, it still doesn’t seem to be much of anything.

  • Athelstane

    The Star-Ledger of Newark has noted that the half-million-dollar tab for this wing does not include architects’ fees or furnishings.

    Unfortunately, a half million dollars wouldn’t keep the typical diocesan school running for more than a semester (if not less). The hard numbers here have to be confronted: running Catholic schools is not cheap, especially with a lay labor force. They have bills to pay, and we a have duty to pay them what we reasonably can.

    In short, the dynamics for why many schools are closing have far deeper causes, and even having Bishop Smell-Like-Sheep living in a tent will not do much to alter that situation. We, the laity, are not having nearly as many children, making the effort to send them to Catholic schools (albeit, in truth, many are hardly Catholic at all), and we are not encouraging the religious vocations that made it possible to found so many of these schools once upon a time.

    But Mark is right to target Archbp. Myers, because frankly this looks very bad, and hypocritical, when it’s being done at the same time that schools are being closed, and finances are tight. It’s hard to see the justice of this project. The age when large mansions and edifices were needed to impress hostile Protestant civic leaders is well past.