Pope wants a church rich in faith, not in wealth

Pope Francis I is affecting change in an institution that measures such seismic shifts in centuries, not months. Not only is he moderating the tone of the Catholic Church on its dogmatic teachings regarding such issues as abortion, homosexuality, and divorce, he’s ridding the church of an image of tone-deaf imperialists that has dogged it for years.

Last week, the pope accepted the resignation of Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Germany, dubbed the “bling bishop” because of his fealty to all things opulent. Tebartz van-Elst was forced to step down in the wake of revelations that he spent $43 million in home renovations that would make Tom Brady look like a Home Depot denizen. The updates to the German prelate’s manse included a nearly $1 million garden, a raised chapel roof so an advent wreath could be installed, and heated stones on an outdoor path to make walking more comfortable.

Tebartz van-Elst, though, is just the most high-profile member of a Catholic hierarchy whose spending habits have long gone unchecked and unquestioned by the faithful. Yesterday, the archbishop of Atlanta put a halt to a $2.2 million residence he planned to build on property donated by the nephew of “Gone With the Wind” author Margaret Mitchell. Archbishop Wilton Gregory issued a mea culpa acknowledging it’s a new age in spending parishioners’ donations.

“What we didn’t stop to consider, and that oversight rests with me and me alone, was that the world and the church have changed,” Gregory wrote in the archdiocesan newspaper. “The example of the Holy Father, and the way people of every sector of our society have responded to his message of gentle joy and compassion without pretense, has set the bar for every Catholic and even for many who don’t share our communion.”

In addition to Gregory, parishioners are beginning to look critically at the spending habits of their bishops in New Jersey and West Virginia, among other dioceses. Much of it is in the wake of Pope Francis’s move to adopt a humble posture that he expects those beneath him to emulate. Francis has moved into a small apartment in the Vatican rather than the opulent residence of his predecessors. And he is driven around in a Ford Focus, not the Popemobile made famous the world over.

For those in Boston, though,  it is a familiar path , one that started within days of then-Bishop Sean O’Malley assuming the post of archbishop of the Boston Archdiocese . O’Malley moved out of the Lake Street mansion that housed the Boston See’s archbishops for decades and took up quarters in a small apartment at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End. Within a year,  O’Malley sold off the chancery and the surrounding 43 acres to Boston College for nearly $100 million, money that was needed to fund a settlement with victims of clergy sex abuse. He moved the diocesan offices to an industrial park in Braintree. It was a statement that many saw as a healing effort, one that Francis is now adopting.

It’s no coincidence that Cardinal O’Malley is one of the pope’s closest advisors. The two share a dedication to humility and moderation of tone while holding strong to traditional Catholic teachings. Francis recently appointed O’Malley to a Vatican antiabuse commission to help show resolve in dealing with clergy sex abuse and to reach out to victims.

But the most striking example Pope Francis is setting is a move away from the opulence and land-hoarding that has marked the church for generations. At the outset of his papacy, Francis said he “would like a Church which is poor and for the poor!” The changes are afoot.

–JACK SULLIVAN  

BEACON HILL

Domestic violence legislation crafted by House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Attorney General Martha Coakley is unveiled, WBUR reports.

Speaker DeLeo calls a temporary halt to special elections, which are costing municipalities a lot of money. That means the seat of Rep. Kevin Murphy, who is leaving the House to take the city manager job in Lowell, will remain vacant until November, nearly eight months away. Leaving voters without representation for six months was one of the chief reasons the House booted former Rep. Carlos Henriquez, who was jailed for assault and battery against his girlfriend, and held a special election for his seat. Henriquez has maintained his innocence.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Lawrence City Council hangs a portrait of former mayor Michael Sullivan in its chambers. Next on the list is former mayor William Lantigua, whose administration is under fire. His former chief of staff, Leonard Degnan, is awaiting sentencing on bribery and conspiracy charges.

A Plymouth motorcycle police officer was killed in a crash while riding alongside another officer yesterday.

A North Attleboro high school senior becomes the city’s youngest-ever selectman.

CASINOS

Mohegan Sun hits a speed bump as state officials say the casino operator needs to do more work on its environmental impact report, CommonWealth reports.

State gaming commissioner Stephen Crosby suggests Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s bid to make the city a host community is an uphill fight, NECN reports.

While New Bedford officials and a developer of a proposed waterfront casino in the Whaling City are asking the Gaming Commission to slow down the licensing process for the Southeast region, Fall River Mayor Will Flanagan, who has a deal with Foxwoods for his city, is pushing for the panel to go all-ahead full.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

President Obama hosts the Red Sox at the White House, and says he is surrounded by Red Sox fans. Big Papi does a selfie with the president but it may not be as spontaneous as it seemed. It appears it was part of a deal he signed with Samsung.

Obama claims victory in the Affordable Care Act battles, announcing that more than 7 million Americans have signed up for Obamacare insurance. The Atlantic wonders whether the enrollment numbers will take steam out of the Republican midterm push. Keller@Large sees the dark cloud around the silver lining.

Paul Ryan rolls out a “fantasy budget,” writes The New Republic’s Danny Vinik.

Some in Congress are urging that federal research dollars be spread more evenly to rural states, a move that would threaten the dominance of Massachusetts and other biomedical powerhouses in securing research money.

ELECTIONS

Evandro Carvalho , a Cape Verdean-born attorney, swept yesterday’s five-way special election Democratic primary to fill the seat vacated when jailed former rep Carlos Henriquez was expelled by the House following his conviction on assault charges. With no Republicans contesting the seat, Carvalho should walk to victory in the April 29 general election.

Mark Fisher filed suit against the Massachusetts Republican Party, which he says is improperly denying him a spot on the September primary ballot for governor.

FiveThirtyEight argues that Terry McAuliffe’s victory in Virginia’s wealthy suburbs isn’t a feat Democrats are likely to repeat this November.

EDUCATION

Lowell school officials are pushing for a $245 million expansion and renovation of the high school, the Sun reports.

The East Bridgewater school superintendent and several officials and parents are engaging in an online Facebook feud over some of the decisions by the superintendent, whose contract expires at the end of the school year.

Some say US Sen. Elizabeth Warren is relying on fuzzy math in railing against the government profiteering on student loans.

HEALTH CARE

A Japanese research institute is accusing one of its scientists of fraud in two major papers on stem cells, one of which was done with a Boston researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

TRANSPORTATION

The MBTA confirms that the inaugural weekend of its late-night service was a success, even though uncertainty remains over whether the program will be able to continue beyond its one-year pilot phase.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch signed a 20-year agreement with a Marlboro company to install solar panels on public buildings, which will save the city an estimated $6 million over the life of the contract.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Police arrest 28 people for street level opiate dealing in northern Suffolk County, the Item reports.

A 38-year-old married mother of two in Middleton is charged with aggravated child rape after engaging in sex with a 15-year-old. The two were discovered after the boy showed his friends naked cellphone pictures of the woman, the Salem News reports.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry says the state won’t comply with the requirements of the federal prison rape law, Governing reports.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

MEDIA

Marjorie Arons Barron is the latest to call for Jerry Remy to step down as Red Sox television analyst, saying listening to him during games adds an “ick factor” for fans looking for some escape and entertainment.