NEWARK, N.J. (RNS) Every year, without fail, Joe Ferri writes a $100 check to the Archdiocese of Newark for the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal, a fundraising drive that benefits a variety of religious causes.

This year, Ferri left the empty envelope on his pew at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Bloomfield. He’s done writing checks.

“If this is the only way I can be heard, so be it,” said Ferri, 70. “I’m disgusted. The archdiocese is not going to get another penny out of me.”

The Archdiocese of Newark is paying more than a half million dollars for a 3,000-square-foot addition to Archbishop John J. Myers' summer and weekend residence in Franklin Township, Hunterdon County. The three-story addition will include an indoor pool, a hot tub, fireplaces and an elevator. Photo by Mark Mueller, courtesy of The Star-Ledger

The Archdiocese of Newark is paying more than a half million dollars for a 3,000-square-foot addition to Archbishop John J. Myers’ summer and weekend residence in Franklin Township, Hunterdon County. The three-story addition will include an indoor pool, a hot tub, fireplaces and an elevator. Photo by Mark Mueller, courtesy of The Star-Ledger


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Two weeks after The Star-Ledger disclosed that Archbishop John J. Myers is building a 3,000-square-foot addition on the expansive home where he will spend his retirement, it appears the work will cost the archdiocese far more than the $500,000 allotted for construction.

Parishioners, infuriated by what they call a tone-deaf show of excess at a time when Catholic schools are closing and when the pope has called on bishops to shed the trappings of luxury, say they’re cutting off contributions entirely or sharply curtailing them.

Others said they will continue supporting their local parishes but will ignore the annual appeal, which has been heavily promoted in churches over the past month across the archdiocese, home to 1.3 million Catholics in the New Jersey counties of Essex, Hudson, Union and Bergen.

At stake are millions of dollars that support schools, youth ministries, retired priests and Catholic Charities, the nonprofit agency that runs homeless shelters and provides a wide array of services for the poorest residents. In recent years, the appeal has brought in between $10 million and $11 million annually, said Jim Goodness, a spokesman for Myers.

While acknowledging the good work the church does, the parishioners said they believe their complaints will be ignored if they don’t make the point more indelibly with their pocketbooks.

“The only language the church understands is money,” said Maria Bozza, 69, who has urged fellow parishioners at Holy Family Church in Nutley to withhold contributions to the archdiocese. “We need to start an ‘empty envelope month’ to replace the archbishop’s annual appeal. If parishioners in every church in the Newark Archdiocese sent in an empty envelope, then they will get the message.”

The Rev. John Bambrick, pastor of a parish in the Diocese of Trenton, and an occasional critic of Myers’ leadership, said he understands parishioners’ frustration. Many priests share it, he said, but are unwilling to speak out publicly.

“The average priest lives in two rooms with a bathroom, and the pope lives in a hotel room,” Bambrick said, a reference Pope Francis’ decision to live in a guest house instead of the papal palace. “I don’t understand why a 75-year-old man needs a 7,500-square-foot mansion with two swimming pools.”

Parishioners, Bambrick said, are now faced with a dilemma. By refusing to donate, he said, they are most certainly sending a message. But they’re also depriving the neediest residents of care, he said.

“It does hurt the poor,” Bambrick said. “As priests, that’s the hardest thing for us. It doesn’t hurt the archbishop. There’s no way to hold him accountable. But the poor are held accountable for his bad decisions.”

In church last Sunday and in parish bulletins, some pastors forcefully pushed back against the notion Myers had done anything wrong, exhorting parishioners to continue giving and characterizing coverage of the renovation by The Star-Ledger and other news outlets as anti-Catholic.

“For the love of God, the media is our devil,” the Rev. Peter Palmisano, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Virgin Church in Garfield, wrote in the Feb. 28 bulletin. “DO NOT LET OPINIONS stand in the way of us doing God’s work, living the Gospel and helping the archbishop do the same.”

The Hunterdon County home —  situated on 8.2 wooded acres in the Diocese of Metuchen — has five bedrooms, three full bathrooms, a three-car garage and a basement office, according to documents on file in the municipal building.

An elevator was installed in 2011 at a cost of about $35,000, the records show. A large, kidney-shaped swimming pool sits behind the structure. The house was assessed last year at $776,000, with taxes of nearly $19,000.

The archdiocese, a tax-exempt organization, has paid the property tax each year because the house is not primarily used for religious functions, said Goodness.

The three-story addition, now under construction, will add 3,000 square feet and will include a bedroom with a sitting area, a large study with an attached library, a full-floor “gallery” on the third level, two bathrooms, three fireplaces and its own elevator.

A “wellness room” will contain a 14-foot by 7-foot exercise pool and an adjoining whirlpool tub, identified on blueprints as a hot tub.

Goodness said the addition’s cost will be borne by the sale of other properties, chiefly a Connecticut house once used by retired Archbishop Peter Gerety.

Donors also have contributed to the renovation, Goodness said, but he has declined to say how much the restricted donations amount to.

Under no circumstances, he said, will funds from the annual appeal be used for the construction or for ancillary costs, such as furnishing the home or landscaping work.

In a lengthy statement Friday, the spokesman urged parishioners to support the fundraising drive, saying it “all goes to people in need.” More than 50 percent of contributions — or more than $5 million — is earmarked for Catholic schools, he said. Another $3 million goes to Catholic Charities, he said. About $1 million is shared with parishes that meet or exceed fundraising goals.

“It’s painful to hear some people talking about stopping their contributions to the annual appeal and to the church in general,”  Goodness, wrote.  “By withdrawing their support, who are they harming? The very people that we as a church are pledged to help.”

Kevin Davitt, 59,  of Glen Rock refused to put his money in the collection basket this past Sunday.

And while he had already donated to the archbishop’s annual appeal — he said it was a “significant sum” — Davitt won’t do so again unless Myers reimburses the archdiocese or fully funds the construction with private donations.

“This just adds insult to injury,” said Davitt, who worked as a spokesman for former Gov. James E. McGreevey from 2001 to 2003 and who now works for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York. “We’re all still grappling with the problems of pedophilia and sexual inappropriateness of our priests, and then to have this come out of the blue is very discouraging to me as a Catholic.”

Last week, Davitt expressed his frustration in an email to Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States. Dozens of other parishioners said they had likewise written to the ambassador, known as the nuncio, or to Pope Francis at the Vatican.

“I am hopeful you might be able to communicate to our Holy Father the need to remove the archbishop from his position in Newark,” Davitt wrote.

(Mark Mueller writes for The Star-Ledger.)

YS END MUELLER

7 Comments

  1. John J. Myers, archbishop or no, is as blatantly corrupt as any church manager throughout the often shady history of the Catholic Church up to the Reformation and in many, many continuing ways since. Myers showed that in his previous assignment. He showed it in the shabby way he handled the sex abuse and the clerical abusers in Newark. He now shows it by thumbing his nose at the people of the Newark Diocese in his flagrant abuse of their money for his own luxurious, materialistic living.

    Myers is as bad as any churchmen have ever been, bar none, not even the pedophiles had handled so lightly. Like so many other bishops, he used the money of the people to hire accountants and lawyers to hide that abuse of the people’s own kids.

    Pope Francis should openly, boldly fire the man. In addition to his brazen of contempt for Jesus and the precepts of the Gospels, Myers constantly and boldly shows utter contempt for the followers of Jesus. And he is their presumed leader?

    No bishop, no priest, and no employee of the Diocese of Newark can defend Myers or dare to use the lame excuse that not contributing to the bishop’s fund will only hurt the poor. The lay people who are the ones who pay all the bills, including the cost of Myers’ hoped-for, fancy digs in Hunterdon County, outside the area of the Newark Diocese, can and should use those purse strings to demand corrections to this brazen abuse. Francis can fire the guy, but the parishioners of the Newark Diocese can control his financial abuses.

    Why did the people ever even allow Myers to buy a “weekend retreat” with their funds? The lay people are expected to attend church each weekend, but their bishop hides away in luxury, swimming and elevating, outside their diocese!

    Retirement? Let every bishop retire to simplicity just as every priest should retire to simplicity if they are true followers of Jesus as they claim. Or, if Myers carves grandeur so disgustingly, Francis could always offer him the Apostolic Palace that he so genuinely forsake along with red, satin, Gucchi slippers.

    There is something evil about the church. That evil is the management separation of the clergy from the non-clergy. (“Lay people” has become a belittling, disgusting term.) The non-clergy pay all the bills. They should have a say in who their priest is to be. They, along with diocesan priests, should do the selection of their own bishops. It should not be done through other clergy, through the nuncio’s suggestions, and ultimately by a bunch of bishops forming the Congregation for Bishops in the corrupt Curia in the Vatican.

    But the “lay people” must demand all these changes. They must put an blunt end to the long and dark evolution of the “black magic” of the sacraments that the clergy use to hold the “lay people” under their control.

    As Martin Luther discovered in all his studies leading up to his reform, all but Baptism and Holy Communion evolved into the magic power status long after Jesus, and even the power control and black magic that was added, implied to Baptism and Holy Communion were not at all like that in the beginning.

    We need another council, one that will undo Nicaea that was called by the non-Christian Emperor Constantine in 325 so that he could work his corrupt politics and control the growing Jesus communities. Newark, NJ, certainly needs a council in which the “lay people” fire John Myers promptly–without any benefits. You can be sure he has hidden a gold mine out of the people’s resources out of which he plans to draw so he can continue to live in the luxury to which he has made the people of the diocese accustom him.

    The people of the Diocese of Newark and the people of the church worldwide need to revolt until there is a clear return to the Gospels and they have a full part in future management.

    No priest, no “lay person” should overlook Myers’ corruption or allow it to succeed. Archdiocesan spokesperson Jim Goodness should change his surname to Badness as long as he continues to defend the outrageous and bold corruption of Myers. Whom does Goodness think he’s kidding when he claims Myers’ flagrant abuse of diocesan funds isn’t coming out of the collection baskets and the pockets of the “lay people?” Where does he think the funds to purchase the fancy get-aways of former bishops Boland and McCarrick were obtained.

    Transferring those assets from one form or place to another for the gratification of Myers’ sumptuous indulgence in no way means the “lay people” of the diocese aren’t paying for everything–as they always have.

    This whole brazen matter is sinful, not just disgusting. And Francis should fire Myers promptly. Forget that Myers was already assigned a coadjutor because of his corruption in handling clerical sexual behavior. Fire Myers now and let the coadjutor have full and formal control. Send Myers to some monastery to live, a place where he can spend the rest of his days considering the evil ways in which he has disgraced Jesus, the Gospels, and the church. The Catholic Church certainly can bear no more disgrace. Its history is already overwhelmed with it.

    “Lay people” of the world, stand up and take back your church. Do whatever is necessary, even standing in the way of any further work on the super-mansion in which Myers feels he is entitled to spend his last years. By the way, who’s going to be living there with him if the “lay people” allow this to go forward. And if the “lay people” do not put a stop to it–and run Myers out of town–as with the sexual abuse of their children, they are the ones to blame. Sacraments are not black magic as most clergy are abusing them. Most of them are dying a slow death, anyway.

  2. Earold Gunter

    What do people expect when a belief system requires they humbly submit themselves and are referred to as “sheep”?
    Lord Acton once said “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”
    Put yourself in a subservient position to anyone, man, or the gods they have created, and more times than not, they will use this to control, and take advantage of you.

    Religion is poison!

  3. This story is mildly interesting and speaks to an important topic. Another I would like to see would provide the total dollar amount the Catholic Church has spent defending itself and paying settlements in sexual abuse cases. I mean, a couple of hundred million here and a couple of hundred million there and pretty soon you’re talking REAL money. I cannot believe anybody gives them a penny for anything.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments with many links may be automatically held for moderation.