New Jersey Catholics, having been approached for $1M to bolster Catholic education aren’t too happy with their new bishop for investing more than half that amount in a new suburban house. Less than two months into service, and there’s an appeal from the laity to the papal nuncio:
We, the undersigned, respectfully request that the newly appointed Bishop of Trenton be asked to reconsider his decision to move to a semi-rural home on six acres in an exclusive neighborhood. He should choose instead to make his home in the City of Trenton where the Diocese’s bishops have lived and served for the past eighty-seven years. Purchased in 1924 for this specific purpose, 903 West State Street has a cross etched into its brick work, a magnificent private chapel, and a stately presence for all to see. In the spirit of Catherine of Siena, we ask that he return to his rightful place, among all of the people — black, white, brown, yellow, rich, poor, working-class, professional — to serve as a symbol of unity and beacon of hope for a city that he is now seeking to abandon for greener pastures. Let not “Lawrenceville with a Princeton address” (the house at 53 Carson Road) — be the Diocese of Trenton’s Babylonian captivity.
It’s not as if Bishop O’Connell is being asked to live in poverty by remaining at the old manse in the working class ‘h0od. Note the appeal to the saint who shamed Gregory IX for living in the south of France.
Do you file it under bishops-who-don’t-get-it? Or is the old house really a dump with a cross carved into the brick? I’m not sure the climate is right almost anywhere for these kinds of moves. Granted, many Catholics would like to see some bishops in a nine-by-twelve room with a sink and a toilet for company. But these moves to suburban sites: what are these guys thinking? It’s a PR nightmare. It sets a poor example for the Gospel. Yes, they pointed out in Cincinnati the virtue of entertaining seminarians and clergy and other guests. But some would counter that’s what you have a diocesan center for … or the homes of rich benefactors.
It’s lose-lose for the laity. If you have a good guy you’d want to gift with a nice home, the Congregation of Bishops is sure to bump him to a big city see. And if he’s a lifer in the present climate, there’s almost surely something wrong with him.
Rock reported last summer that his predessor thought him to be a man os “pastoral sensitivity.” On the job for six months, how do you think this move looks? Plus, the bishop’s a Vicentian. Is there a vow of poverty in the mix with that?
From his first letter as bishop last month (emphases my own):
At a time when money is tight and employment is not stable, I have nowhere else to turn but you. At a time when society and culture mock our most deeply held teachings and values, I have nowhere else to turn but you. At a time when the number of those available to lead and serve in our parishes and institutions are rapidly diminishing, I have nowhere else to turn but you. And in all these things and the many other burdens that weigh heavily upon us all, as your bishop I invite and ask you to join with me in turning to the Lord, especially during this Advent Season, in joyful expectation and daily prayer that our faith might be renewed, our hope strengthened and our charity increased and multiplied!
My sisters and brothers, I ask your prayer in these times of transition that I might be for you a good and faithful bishop, that my many imperfections and weaknesses might be minimized …
Anybody on the ground in Trenton with something to add?