–Polychrome image, Nuestro Padre Jesús de Gran Poder, attributed to Juan Martínez Montañés, San Lorenzo, Sevilla, Spain
It’s not as bad as it looks, you say. The money isn’t coming out of the pockets of parishioners but from the sale of diocesan properties and private donations. It’s not as bad as it looks. Those private donations can’t be used for other purposes—they are restricted by the donors for the purpose of building the archbishop’s retirement residence. To use them for other things would be to break faith with the donor and risk losing the donation.
It’s not as bad as it looks. You couldn’t have used the money being spent on the mansion to keep a few parochial schools open because it wasn’t lack of funds that led you to close them, it was falling enrollment.
It’s not as bad as it looks. You give millions away every year to help the poor, and building this 3,000 square foot extension on the archbishop’s 4, 500 square foot retirement home won’t affect that charitable work at all.
It’s not as bad as it looks. It isn’t the archbishop’s private residence, after all. I mean, it’s not in his name, he doesn’t own it, it is and will remain an asset of the archdiocese. He just gets to live in it rent free until he dies. And that’s something that’s mandated by the US Conference of Catholic bishops—every diocese has to provide a place to live for a retired bishop. Oh, and we actually pay property taxes for that house.
It’s not as bad as it looks. The archbishop may be retiring, but he will continue to be involved in church life. He will need his own office space, and there’s an office space in that house.
It’s not as bad as it looks. Most bishops are not monks. They are not required to take a vow of poverty. Some have made a lot of money from private ventures or have inherited a lot of family money. You can’t tell them how they should use it or how they should live.
It’s not as bad as it looks. The archbishop is getting older and he will need an indoor pool, in addition to the existing outdoor pool, and exercise rooms and an elevator to help him deal with physical challenges in later life.
So you see, you just don’t understand. You are being unfair. It’s just not as bad as it looks.
But it is, dear archdiocesan spokesperson. It is.
It is scandal enough that the archbishops is getting a mansion rent free for the rest of his life, but in your public statements you compound the scandal when you don’t seem to understand why the mansion is a scandal. You think that if you put out enough justifying explanations, the people will see it that it is in fact reasonable, and this manufactured unfair scandal will fizzle.
You do not seem to understand that the scandal is not in the details. The disturbance is not in the particulars. It is in the impact, the bigger message the house sends about how the archdiocese reads the gospel. It arises from the straightforward contrast people perceive between what is asked of them and what their leaders ask of themselves.
No amount of rational explanation about how it all makes good business sense, or that no one is being fleeced here, will suffice to mitigate the perception that the house represents precisely the kind of privilege Jesus laid aside to be with us. And in all you defensive fluster to correct errors and unfair criticism, you—and the archbishop—seem oblivious to the evasion of the ethical demands of the sequela Christi that your people seem instinctively to grasp.
Instead you make it seem that the people who are complaining and criticizing are somehow benighted. They just don’t get it; and if they were a little more attuned to realities, they would. “So let us explain it to you,” you say. “Let us help you understand.” As if basic regular people have no compass for the gospel. As if there is no instinct in them that knows when something is awry. As if you can pass over these objection because they come largely from the ‘uninformed’ laity, address them with platitudes, placate people with facts and figures, and dismiss their expressions of hurt faith as either ignorant misunderstanding or plain bad will.
You can explain everything, and show how it all makes perfect sense from all kinds of standpoints, but you will not have removed the scandal. For in the biblical sense of the term, ‘scandal’ is any word or deed of yours that causes someone else to lose heart, to flag in faith, to despair of God’s goodness and love, to doubt. And this is what’s happening in your diocese. People are feeling wounded in their faith because of this house, less trusting, more cynical, less able to believe what is preached. And woe unto that one, Jesus said, that causes one of his little ones to stumble.