Anti-Bling?

Cardinal Bertone pushes back against his detractors, as reported here. In a general way, I did mention him last week as part of an episcopacy that is now being openly questioned by all comers. From his letter to dioceses he served:

I am personally grateful to Pope Francis for having called me April 23 to express his solidarity and his disappointment for the media attacks about the apartment, of which he had been informed as soon as the article was published.

To be fair to the cardinal, he’s at best a bystander in larger issues in the wider culture and in the Church. He’s got a loaner for a few years. Fine. People can decide to loan living space to their friends. When I was in grad school, I benefitted from sitting in people’s houses. Okay, and sleeping and living and entertaining in them, too.

As a twenty-something grad student, I was living in places well beyond my means–even today. I threw a World Cup party in ’86 and I’ve never lived in a place since where I could entertain about thirty people.

That so-called bling bishop has probably spoiled a good bit of this for his European brothers. But do his excesses mean that all other bishops must eat rice and beans (self-cooked), launder their own cassocks, and pink slip their chauffeurs? And stateside, what was once taken for granted for higher clergy is now being openly questioned. When do questions turn into attacks? For thin-skinned aristocrats, any mention of the 99 and the 1% is going to send the oligarchs into a defensive frenzy. Are we really looking at a French Revolution for the Church?

Diocesan priests do not take a vow of poverty. Likewise, as a lay ecclesial minister, I have not taken one either. (I’ve never been offered any such opportunity, by the way.) But I know that clergy generally enjoy a somewhat higher standard of living than I do. It was true before I was married with children, and it’s still true today.

My ordained colleagues travel a good bit. I’ve enjoyed hearing tales of vacations in Australia, the Caribbean, Ireland, and especially Rome. Their homes are generally more polished than my own–plenty of room to entertain socially, too. Is that because they are my employers? Is it because they are clergy? Nobody I know resents priests who have such things. Most suburban Catholics enjoy them too.

So what’s with the so-called “attacks”? Is it just the bad example of a few? Is it Pope Francis setting unreasonable expectations for others? Is it the slow crunch of a Russian-style oligarchy punching down the Western middle class? Are journalists smelling blood or inventing it? Is a 6500-square-foot apartment reasonable for a retired cardinal? Does it touch on some deeper resentment toward bishops and the institutional church?

If I were Cardinal Bertone, I don’t know that I would take it personally. On the other hand, I’ve seen my modest cost-of-living raises poured back into insurance premiums for the past several years. My take-home is a bit lower than it was in 2001, though I’ve had substantially the same salary (adjusted for inflation) for the past decade-and-a-half. So if he or other bishops feel a little pressed, I’m not feeling much sympathy. Unlike these guys, I have a teenager who needs a college fund.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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