Pope wants a church rich in faith, not in wealth
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.
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.
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