Monday, February 17, 2014

Retiring bishops, priests and all those empty rectory rooms...

An article in the Newark Star Ledger (h-t Deacon Kandra) has people talking about what is considered modest living for a bishop heading into retirement.  I don't know the circumstances surrounding this, or if it is going to be a retirement home for a number of clerics, but it is raising a lot of questions.  The article starts out...

The 4,500-square-foot home sits on 8.2 wooded acres in the hills of Hunterdon County. With five bedrooms, three full bathrooms, a three-car garage and a big outdoor pool, it’s valued at nearly $800,000, records show. 
But it’s not quite roomy enough for Newark Archbishop John J. Myers. 
Myers, who has used the Franklin Township house as a weekend residence since the archdiocese purchased it in 2002, is building a three-story, 3,000-square-foot addition in anticipation of his retirement in two years, The Star-Ledger found. He will then move in full-time, a spokesman for the archbishop said. 
The new wing, now just a wood frame, will include an indoor exercise pool, a hot tub, three fireplaces, a library and an elevator, among other amenities, according to blueprints and permits filed with the Franklin Township building department. 
The price tag, the records show, will be a minimum of a half million dollars, a figure that does not include architectural costs, furnishings and landscaping.

Who pays?

So that it is known, unlike most religious order priests, diocesan priests do not take a vow of poverty.  However, there is prudential judgment and being the best possible witness for the Gospel.  If it looks rich, and sounds rich, what kind of perception does it yield in a reasonable person?  And, from where does this money come?

Myers’ spokesman, Jim Goodness, said the addition will have no impact on archdiocese finances, saying the cost will be largely borne by the sale of other church-owned properties. Donors also have contributed to the project, Goodness said. 
He declined to identify the properties to be sold or provide the amount of the private donations.
"There are not expected to be any expenses that can not be met by other real estate transactions, and it will remain an asset of the archdiocese," Goodness said. "It is not a personal asset."

Properties sold?  That's a pretty sensitive expression these days with parishes closing.

Now, this is interesting...

According to guidelines issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, all dioceses must provide a residence for retired bishops. The guidelines don’t specify, however, what kind of residence is required.

There should be some kind of guidelines, no?  I don't think a diocese should pay for anything beyond a modest residence in a modest part of town, no disrespect intended. Maybe after all of the facts come out in this case, the Myers retirement residence will prove to be modest.  I hope so.

Rectories as Retirement Havens?

Much beloved Fr. Val before he died,
with the visiting Bishop Athansius Schneider,
at Ss Cyril & Methodius in Sterling Heights
a few  years back.
Here's a novel idea and a great way to save both clerics and dioceses money.

How many empty rectory rooms are there in each diocese?  And, how many retired priests in a given diocese would be willing to live in those rooms for a very low cost? By that, I mean a reasonable cost for added utility use, food, services, etc.

I have seen a few elderly priests living at two different parishes in recent years and it was a grand arrangement.  These priests could celebrate Mass privately, or publicly (as they felt up to it); they heard confessions likewise and offered spiritual direction.  In fact, these priests seemed to love the kind of freedom pastors do not have because of administration and other duties.

These priests are, or were, beloved fixtures in their communities.  I've known of other retired priests who lived in rectories who were not engaged with the parish community.  Maybe they were involved with other things, or burned out like others who enter retirement and need a change. They should be free to participate in parish life as they wish and are able, or not at all.

I know some bishops have retired to rectories. Is this not a good use of diocesan money, to give a parish a modest sum of money to take in a retired bishop?

Once again, I understand that diocesan priests and bishops do not take a vow of poverty, but rectory living in most parishes is hardly poverty. The key word is freedom - freedom to participate or not.  However, I think rectory living could be encouraged by the USCCB in their guidelines.  What is the cost of putting Archbishop Myers in a rectory room within the diocese, or even in another diocese that is willing to take him in?  He wouldn't get a jacuzzi, but he would have a bath tub like the rest of us.

I do know that some retired priests are living in poverty. Maybe Archbishop Myers is planning on taking some of them into this big place he is building.  I digress. Could we ease the suffering of retired priests living in poverty by giving them one of those empty rooms in a big rectory with lots of empty rooms, for a lower cost than what they pay now? It would be good for the faithful to witness Holy Church doing everything possible in this regard, to aid her retired priests.  Charity starts at home.

Consider that if a priest wants to move from one state to another in retirement, how many places he could choose from to live, if he could find a pastor willing to open the door. Maybe a cleric wants to be near an elderly sibling or other family members who cannot accommodate him; or, perhaps he simply cannot afford to be there because of living costs.

I know some will talk about ideological and even theological differences between priests, and we know that some are very orthodox while others are quite heterodox.  No one says there shouldn't be some kind of compatibility, and freedom on the part of a pastor to approve or disapprove.  When we aren't talking heterodoxy being involved, it's good to keep in mind that pearls are created in friction.  I'm willing to bet that a pastor like Fr. Ben at Ss Cyril & Methodius benefited from his relationship with Fr. Val, and vice versa. We can get set in our ways living alone and being around others brings opportunities to practice mortification - a word most never hear about anymore.  We become one another's hair shirts.

I suspect God would bless priests, parishes, and dioceses for such arrangements.  I know many whose lives were forever altered by Fr. Val Rykowski, and other elderly priests like him who, despite their age and frailty, serve as spiritual fathers to many in retirement.

As an aside, I understand that March 1st is the anniversary of Fr Val's death.  It is an act of mercy to pray for the dead and not avoid doing so on the presumption they area already in heaven.  Fr. Val would be the first to tell people to pray for him.


I've had my say, what say you?  I'd be interested to hear from priests whether this could work and what the perceived obstacles would be.


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