The Record: Archdiocesan appeal rebranded
THE ARCHDIOCESE of Newark is playing down the significance of removing “archbishop” from the annual fundraising appeal. An archdiocesan spokesman told The Record the appeal is “not so much identified with one individual.” Well, it is. And that was the problem.
Archbishop John Myers will reach the mandatory retirement age of 75 next year. He will retire well. Very well. Into a more than 7,000-square-foot mansion in Hunterdon County. The existing 4,500-square-foot home wasn’t big enough for the archbishop, so the archdiocese is spending $500,000 to expand it. The lavish retirement digs have not sat well with parishioners. Last year’s appeal, despite an improved economy, took in $200,000 less than the year before.
Despite calls by many to sell the home, Myers has not. His stance is in direct conflict with the one taken by Pope Francis, who has shunned the lavish trappings of the papacy, choosing to live in simple accommodations. Francis has rebuked bishops who live like kings and princes. The pope has placed a coadjutor archbishop in Newark, Bernard Hebda, who is expected to succeed Myers after the archbishop retires.
The archdiocese has long said Hebda’s presence in Newark has nothing to do with Myers’ poor handling of a priest who violated an agreement made with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office to stay away from minors; that Myers just asked Rome for help and got it. But Hebda is a sign that the doings in Newark were not going unnoticed by the Vatican. Rebranding the annual appeal may help fundraising, but it is unlikely that donors are unaware who the archbishop of Newark is regardless of whether the word “archbishop” is on the appeal literature.
The tragedy here is that the appeal goes for some valued things. The appeal helps fund the archdiocese’s annual budget, which includes money for parishes, schools, youth ministries, Catholic charities and priest retirement. Most of those retired priests – probably all – will not retire to 7,000-plus-square foot homes with a lap pool and elevator.
This September, Pope Francis will visit the United States. The main purpose of the trip is to participate in the 2015 World Meeting of Families to be held in Philadelphia. There will be a stop in New York and also a speech before a joint session of Congress. The final itinerary has not been made public, but so far, there has been no talk of a brief detour to New Jersey. Yet it is probable that the bishops of New Jersey will be part of the large delegation of cardinals, bishops and priests greeting the pope in the metropolitan region.
Between now and then, Myers should do what he should have done last year: Put his retirement home up for sale, settle on something smaller and more befitting a man who promised to be a servant in the kingdom of God and not a lord of a manor, and designate the remaining funds to go toward the annual appeal.
If archdiocesan officials are concerned first for the work of the archdiocese, they will do more than remove “archbishop” from the appeal; they will remove “archbishop” from the mailbox of a Hunterdon County mansion.