At a time when the Catholic and Anglican churches on either side of the Atlantic have been parading their advocacy on behalf of the poor and the powerless, they might have bothered to put their own houses in order first. But, once again, through acts of bad timing and breathtaking bad taste, they have shot themselves in the foot.
In the UK, a Conservative MP hit back at the twenty-seven Church of England bishops who signed an open letter condemning the British government’s welfare reforms and labeling them “punitive”. Charlotte Leslie MP rightly pointed out that the church has considerable assets of its own that it could deploy in service of the poor before it becomes necessary to start badgering the government to redistribute more income between private individuals:
They say charity starts at home. Lambeth Palace [the official London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury] is a rather nice home.
If you are invited to a reception there, you pad up richly carpeted stairs, along corridors of gold-framed paintings, before being treated to quails eggs with a delicate celery salt dip, and freely flowing wine. It’s rather a long way away from the local churches with crumbling roofs, serving damp biscuits and coffee in cracked mugs after the service.
One can’t help but think that this luxurious, and historic Palace might not be put to better use, more in line with the New Testament , if it was rented out to those who would pay dearly for such luxury, and the operation of the Church of England were to decamp to an industrial estate, outside Slough.
Just think of the number of church roofs that could be repaired from the income, and indeed the number of hungry people who could be fed.
The church’s ill-advised foray into campaigning for the Labour Party is encountering much-deserved resistance because the views of twenty-seven relatively coddled bishops with little recent experience of real life are not in tune with the sentiments of the people, and because they displayed a fundamental misunderstanding of the government’s own policy and its application.
Not very impressive from a large faith organisation seeking to influence the public debate.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reports on the attempts by the Archdiocese of Newark to lavish over $500,000 on upgrades to a residence for the bishop – not his primary residence, but his separate vacation home:
John J. Myers, the archbishop of the Newark Archdiocese, comes to this vacation home on many weekends. The 4,500-square-foot home has a handsome amoeba-shaped swimming pool out back. And as he’s 72, and retirement beckons in two years, he has renovations in mind. A small army of workers are framing a 3,000-square-foot addition.
This new wing will have an indoor exercise pool, three fireplaces and an elevator. The Star-Ledger of Newark has noted that the half-million-dollar tab for this wing does not include architects’ fees or furnishings.
The expansion of the bishop’s vacation home will be funded by the sale of other properties owned by the archdiocese, they claim, as though this detail somehow makes the outrage more palatable. It does not. Either the sold buildings served an important purpose for the archdiocese which was suddenly ripped away in order to provide a little more luxury for the bishop, or they were unused and deserved to be sold so that the equity can be released in service of the church’s core mission.
Neither is the lucky beneficiary, Archbishop John J. Myers, a particularly lovable figure whose flock would be particularly thrilled to see treated in so generous a way:
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.
It was revealed last year that a priest seemed to have broken his legally binding agreement with Bergen County prosecutors to never again work unsupervised with children or to minister to them so long as he remained a priest. When next found, he was involved with a youth ministry in the Newark Archdiocese.
Parishioners in Oradell, N.J., also discovered that the archdiocese had allowed a priest accused of sexual abuse to live in their parish’s rectory. A furor arose, and last summer the archbishop sat down and wrote an open letter to his flock. He conceded not a stumble. Those who claim, he wrote, that he and the church had not protected children were “simply evil, wrong, immoral and seemingly focused on their own self-aggrandizement.”
It is hard to see how frittering away scarce diocesan resources in order to build an MTV Crib-style McMansion for a mediocre bishop on the verge of retirement constitutes good stewardship of the church finances. And it is equally regrettable that given opportunity after opportunity to rehabilitate its battered image and start practicing humility and restraint, the hierarchy of the American Catholic church is unable to do so, and – worse still – feels no need to do so.
The church seeks to add its voice to important political debates on both sides of the Atlantic – concerning freedom of religion and abortion in America, and on welfare reform in Britain. In both countries, church leaders seek to portray themselves as spokespeople for the poor, the voiceless and the powerless.
This message would be slightly more credible if church leaders could somehow find it within themselves to stop building swanky palace extensions for their hedonistic bishops.
Image – a palace fit for a mediocre, hypocritical bishop. The new extension being built at the vacation home of Newark Archbishop John J. Myers.