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.