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Donations Drying Up As NJ Archbishop Continues Half-Million Dollar Home Renovation

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While Pope Francis calls on clergy worldwide to forgo “living like princes,” it appears at least one American archbishop has decided to ignore the Vatican’s dictates. Archbishop John Myers, leading the congregation of Newark, New Jersey, has decided to add $500,000 renovations to his weekend home, which he plans on moving into full-time upon retirement in two years. The home is already valued at $800,000, according to property records, but the archbishop has apparently determined that the worth and stretch — it sits at 4500-square-feet on a sprawling, 8.2-acre plot — don’t suit all of his needs for pastoring.

The Newark Star-Ledger helped bring the archbishop’s cushy needs to light last month, breaking the story that the archbishop is set to expand his already sweeping home by another 66 percent over the coming months. And the price tag they’ve discovered — half a million dollars, set to come from property sales and donations — doesn’t even cover furnishing or landscaping.

Of course, it would be one thing if this renovation were set to create, say, low-income schooling rooms, or homeless services, or even additional rooms for worship. Unfortunately, Myers determined his archdiocese must have been sufficiently stocked with low-income services, because he’s opted to instead stock the new expansion with amenities solely for his enjoyment:

The addition will house a large first-floor study and a smaller, attached library. A bedroom and sitting room — matching the footprint of the first-floor layout — are planned for the second floor. The third floor will house a 28-foot by 28-foot gallery with sweeping views of the property. Plans call for a fireplace on each level.

A single-story “wellness room” will connect the main house and the addition. There, the blueprints show, workers will install a hot tub and a 14-foot by 7-foot Endless Pool, a brand of exercise pool. The pool’s jets provide a current, allowing one to swim in place.

When asked the reason for the remarkable expansion, the archbishop’s spokesman, Jim Goodness, was short:

Goodness said the home’s expansion was required because Myers will continue his involvement in church activities during retirement and will need office space.

Precisely how three fireplaces, a whirlpool, and a massive gallery will aid in Myers’ need for “office space” remains to be determined. Fortunately, numerous parishioners are not waiting to see, and have responded with the only way they knew how: withholding the donations upon which the archdiocese subsists.

As the Star-Ledger reported, following their initial coverage, hundreds of parishioners called to lodge their complaints. The Pope’s demanded an end to this form of fiefdom. Jesus forewent his material goods. And, between the innumerable sexual abuse scandals rocking the American Catholic Church, it’s not as if the organization is flush.

Now, talk of an “empty envelope” month has begun, and the archdiocese is scrambling. Parishioners in neighboring dioceses have also begun to withhold funds. And rightly so. For, as a priest interviewed noted, “I don’t understand why a 75-year-old man needs a 7,500-square-foot mansion with two swimming pools.” And, increasingly, neither do the parishioners.

 

Image: Archbishop John Myers, via Facebook

Casey Michel HeadshotCasey Michel is a graduate student at Columbia University, and former Peace Corps Kazakhstan volunteer. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Slate, and Talking Points Memo, and he has contributed multiple long-form investigations to Minneapolis’s City Pages and the Houston Press. You can follow him on Twitter.

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