Saturday, February 21, 2015

Newark’s Catholic parishioners protest: no donations to archbishop Myer’s slush fund

Last year (2/22/14) I wrote about Newark Archbishop John J. Myers spending his weekends at his 4,500-square-foot home on 8.2 wooded acres at the end of a private drive in the hills of Hunterdon County, NJ. At that time he was building a three-story, 3,000-square-foot addition to his $800,000 home, with property taxes of $18,695.  He really needed the extra room for a 28-foot by 28-foot gallery and a "wellness room" with a hot tub and a 14-foot by 7-foot Endless Pool. This is where he will retire. Myers’ spokesman, Jim Goodness, admitted that money for the addition will come from the sale of other church-owned properties – like churches and schools and from donor contributions.

At that time a parishioner, Joan Rubino, was furious when told about the work on the home. Rubino, who who regularly contributed to the archbishops’ appeal for funds — called Myers a "hypocrite." She said, "To ask people to make sacrifices and then to live in a sumptuous residence, it makes me very annoyed. Isn’t there a better use for this money? In plain English, I feel like people are getting screwed."

This year, more parishioners were angered by revelations that the archdiocese was spending $500,000 for renovations adding to an already big expense. The parishioners pledged to keep withholding donations to the annual appeal in protest and demanded that the archdiocese sell Myers’ now 7,000-square-foot house. They want to know how their donated funds are spent. The archdiocese confirmed that contributions dipped last year compared with the year before. Good job! The faithful are finally waking up.

So the Archdiocese of Newark has changed the name of its main fundraising drive. Instead of the Archbishops’ Appeal it has been renamed “Sharing God’s Blessings Appeal” – although Myers doesn’t seem to be sharing his blessings with anyone. One pastor said that many priests think that parishioner discontent with Myers and his retirement home would affect their fundraising – they might not meet their quota.

Goodness denied that parishioner dissatisfaction with spending on the house played a role in renaming the fundraiser. (With a name like that he must be honest). “It’s really an appeal by the church for the people of the church. I wouldn’t call it a re-branding, but re-accentuating the purpose of the appeal,” said Goodness.
Other dioceses are also putting distance between fundraising drives and church hierarchy. The Diocese of Trenton changed the name of its bishop’s appeal this year to the Catholic Appeal because they did not want people to think that the fund was only for use by the bishop. Richard Arnhols, the pastor of St. John the Evangelist in Bergenfield, said about a half-dozen families withheld donations last year over concerns about Myers’ retirement home.  Back in 2003, the Boston Archdiocese changed the name of its annual fundraiser after Cardinal Bernard Law resigned because of his ties to the nationwide clergy sex abuse scandal.

Goodness now says that they will be transparent about what they do with donations:  Half of what is collected will be used for” immediate parish needs” – I wonder if that includes fees to lawyers and payments to victims of pedophile priests. The balance he says will be invested in long-term endowments for retired priests, tuition assistance at Catholic schools, training for seminarians and retraining for parish staff.  Not anything for parishioners in need or good works? Let’s hope that all parishioners realize that their intended kindness is funding greedy church employees’ rich lifestyles.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Catholic Archbishops/Cardinals defy Pope Francis and live like kings: Catholic Nun says: “scandalous”

How many collection baskets does it take to hold $30 million for Dolan's house?

Ten archbishops in U.S. major cities live in homes worth more than $1 million – a lot more.  CNN had a hard time finding out what the homes cost because most of them are tax-exempt. There are also hundreds of retired and active Catholic bishops in smaller cities – some of them live as well and all of them better than those of us who have to pay property taxes and meet mortgage payments.

I wrote last year about how Newark parishioners pay for Archbishop John Meyer’s luxury retirement home (2/22/14 post) but there are others with more lavish lifestyles. It’s not just in the U.S. either: German Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst – known as "The Bishop of Bling" was fired by Francis after spending $43 million to remodel his luxurious home – but we won’t know about others outside the U.S. until the media uncovers the statistics.

Although this pope doesn’t live in the Apostolic Palace like former popes his “small suite” in the Vatican guesthouse is not simple.
     Pope Francis' modest sitting room in the Vatican guesthouse where he lives

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York tops the list with this 15,000-sq.-ft. neo-Gothic mansion (see photo above) estimated at least $30 million. Situated on New York’s pricy Madison Avenue, it is filled with thick red carpets and priceless antiques. Dolan lives there with three other priests. 

Chicago's Cardinal Francis George lives in a $14.3 million mansion with 19 chimneys located on 1.7 acres of prime real estate in Chicago's ritzy Gold Coast neighborhood. George’s private quarters are on the top two floors and he shares the residence with two bishops and a priest. Three nuns take care of the cardinal and his mansion (is this their calling?) – the nuns live in a 5,800-square-foot nearby coach house.

 Cardinal Francis Georges' mansion costs $14.3 - does that include the coach house?

Cardinals Dolan and Georges' excuses for living this way are that they need offices and room for guests and a place to hold fundraisers (to get money to support their lifestyles?). Why can’t the homes or money from their sale be donated to the poor – maybe the guests should be the homeless and money should go to abused children.

Where else do our donations go? In addition to the cost of these royal residences, there are live-in assistants, housekeepers, gardeners, chauffeurs and cooks to pay. Is this lifestyle necessary in order for these “men of God” to help the poor, feed the hungry, repair the damage done to abused children?

Here are some other archbishops living “high on the hog”:

Archbishop Leonard Blair: Hartford, Connecticut, in a nearly 9,000 sq. ft.  mansion worth $1.85 million.  

 Archbishop Thomas Wenski: Miami, 5,350-sq.-ft.  six-bedroom, six-bath house, over $1.38 million -- lives with his secretary, a priest, and has a tiki hut and pool in the backyard overlooking Biscayne Bay.
                                   Does Archbishop Wenski need to pray in a tiki hut?

Archbishop Robert Carlson: St. Louis, MO, 11,000-sq.-ft. castle-like mansion, worth $1.4 million, shared with his priest-secretary. Two nuns live on the property and cook and clean – what a great way to save money – free maids! Carlson also has a house in Estero, Florida worth $327,500 – a winter retreat?
 Archbishop Carlson doesn't waste our donations -- the nuns cook and clean his castle

Archbishop William Lori: Baltimore, MD, 11,500-square-foot building, worth about $1.24 million, lives with his priest-secretary and the rector of the Baltimore Basilica.

Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller: San Antonio, lives in a 5,000-sq.-ft. home, worth $1.1 million which includes a courtyard, a private chapel, a fireplace and a wet bar (for Communion wine?).

Archbishop Jose Gomez: Los Angeles, 26,000 sq. ft. rectory, worth $7 million, living with six priests.

The list goes on. There are no plans for moving any of these archbishops or other clergy out of their luxury accommodations. We keep supporting them so why should they worry?

Sister Sally Butler is a Catholic nun who ministers in Brooklyn, NY housing projects and has clashed with bishops over their response to the church's sexual abuse scandal.  She says that Catholics are a generous lot, but expect their donations to pay for missions like feeding the poor, training priests and educating students, “not keeping up multimillion-dollar estates”, she said according to a NY Times article. "It's scandalous!" said Butler, 83.

This misuse of funds --often from people who can’t afford it but want to do good works -- is truly scandalous. When will the catholic church stop lying to us? Add financial abuse to physical, emotional and sexual abuse that criminals in the church use against those of us who trusted them. Don’t believe all the talk about great reforms in the church – it’s still business as usual.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Inside the Vatican: pornography, drugs and money laundering – spin this Pope Francis

                                                Sorry – or sorry for getting caught?

After being accused worldwide, now the Holy See’s prosecutor general admits that two cases of child pornography possession were discovered within the walls of the Vatican last year, along with many other crimes according to an article in The Guardian.

Gian Piero Milano, the Holy See’s Promoter of Justice, said the Vatican was now taking action against pedophilia in the heart of the Catholic church. So they wait until they are caught or exposed before they announce “action” – mostly the action consists of forming new committees to investigate the issue – as if it is something new!

Of course, Milano did not say who possessed child pornography although he had that information. One pedophile was identified: former archbishop Josef Wesolowski, who is facing charges. Wesolowski made headlines last year after he was accused of sexually abusing young boys when he was the Pope’s ambassador to the Dominican Republic. He is under house arrest while awaiting trial at the Vatican, -- the first sex abuse trial ever held there. Why is it taking so long? Why don’t the Italian or Dominican police have him locked up? What about all the known clergy sex abusers not on trial? Remember, the catholic church has been policing itself for 2,000 years and it hasn’t had any effect on the crimes they commit.

The Vatican is doing spin control since their other crimes are being exposed: drug trafficking and money laundering. According to the Guardian, three drug deliveries from South America addressed to the Vatican were intercepted last year, including a packet containing cocaine-filled condoms worth $46,000 U.S. The drugs were discovered at Germany’s Leipzig airport and sent to the Vatican in the hope of catching the buyer. No one came claimed the package and German investigators believe the recipient was tipped off about it. So our donations are buying drugs for vatican criminals.

I wrote about the banking scandals in detail my book (Smothered):  2010: Christian Science Monitor investigates Vatican money laundering. American archbishop and bank head Paul Marcinkus was an accessory to fraudulent bankruptcy following the disappearance of $1.3 billion in loans that were supposed to be given to institutions in South America. Is this how the vatican is helping the poor in other countries? They refuse to open their accounting books to anyone so who knows where the money (and our money) goes. The vatican, “surprised” by the investigation, plead innocent as they always do when they get caught committing a crime. Italian investigators froze 23 million euros ($33 million) in funds after finding odd and less than legitimate vatican financial practices. The vatican bankers were “unable to respond” to a series of requests about questionable money transfers of $1.5 billion from accounts in a short period of time.

The Vatican bank has a history and culture as a criminal enterprise. In 1969, lawyer, banker and Mafia don Michele “The Shark” Sindona ran the bank for his old friend pope Paul VI. Sindona used the bank to launder the Gambino Mafia family’s profits from heroin trafficking. By the late 1970s Sindona and his banks were the subject of investigations by Italian judges, prosecutors and politicians, several of whom were murdered. In 1986 Sindona, serving a 25-year sentence for murder, was poisoned in his cell by cyanide in his coffee.

Does this sound like an organization that you can trust with your money and your children?