US archbishops' lavish homes come under scrutiny
Groundswell of opinion calls for move to more modest dwellings
The residence of Cardinal Dolan on Madison Avenue, New York, valued at more than US$30 million (picture: CNN)
- Daniel Burke for CNN
- United States
- August 4, 2014
Clearly, "lifestyles of the rich and religious" doesn't cut it for Pope Francis.
The pontiff has said it "breaks my heart" to see priests and nuns driving the latest-model cars.
He's blasted "airport bishops" who spend more time jet-setting than tending to their flocks.
And he's warned against church leaders who bear the "psychology of princes."
The Vatican fired one such "prince" last year: German Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst -- aka "The Bishop of Bling" -- who spent $43 million to remodel his opulent pad.
(Bronze window frames? $2.4 million. Getting on the wrong side of the Pope? Far more pricey.)
"God save us from a worldly Church with superficial spiritual and pastoral trappings!" Francis said in his book-length blueprint for the church.
Say what you will, but this Pope puts his preaching into practice.
The message seems clear, no?
But are American archbishops following Francis' lead?
A CNN investigation found that at least 10 of the 34 active archbishops in the United States live in buildings worth more than $1 million, according to church and government records.*
That's not counting hundreds of retired and active Catholic bishops in smaller cities, some of whom live equally large.
Among archbishops, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York leads the pack with this 15,000-square-foot mansion on Madison Avenue, in one of the priciest corridors of Manhattan.
Vanderbilt Appraisal Company, a New York firm hired by CNN to estimate the building's value, said it's worth at least $30 million. Dolan shares the neo-Gothic mansion, which is reportedly filled with thick red carpets and priceless antiques, with three other priests.
Chicago's Cardinal Francis George lives in a pretty fancy crib, too.
This mansion has 19 chimneys and sits on 1.7 acres of prime real estate in Chicago's ritzy Gold Coast neighborhood. It's worth $14.3 million "as is," but the property could fetch far more, appraisers told CNN.
George, whose private quarters occupy the mansion's top two floors, according to the archdiocese, shares the residence with two bishops and a priest.
Three nuns who care for the cardinal and his mansion live in a 5,800-square-foot coach house near the main residence.
The mansion's size, architectural details, location and unobstructed view of nearby Lincoln Park make the residence "one of a kind," said Thomas Schurer, director of sales for Chicago's Real Valuation Services, which appraised George's residence for CNN.
Representatives for Cardinals Dolan and George point out that their mansions were built more than 100 years ago and are used as offices and for hosting guests and fundraisers as well as residences. They also say the mansions are historical landmarks and can't easily be sold or converted to other uses.
A century ago, Catholics celebrated the success of their church in the United States by building mansions for their archbishops, historians say. It was a way of saying, "We've made it, and we're here to stay."
But the point has been proved, some Catholics say, and Pope Francis has urged archbishops to refocus their resources on caring for the poor and marginalized.
"There's no reason a bishop has to live like a prince or medieval monarch, even if he inherited the place from his predecessor," said the Rev. Steven Avella, a Catholic priest and professor of religious history at Marquette University. "They should convert the mansions to museums and move into rectories."
In addition to regal residences, many archbishops acquire other perks: live-in assistants, housekeepers, chauffeurs and cooks. Others live alone in roomy residences.
Archbishop James Sartain of Seattle, for example, lives by himself in a three-story house. The appraised value is $3.84 million, according to the King County Department of Assessments.
Full Story: The lavish homes of American archbishops