Readers of the New Testament know Peter and the apostles were mainly uneducated, working-class men. But the Good News! they declared, the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, was of greater value than the combined knowledge and riches of the entire ancient world.
Early Christianity faced great persecution, but eventually was legalized by the Roman Empire and then adopted as the official state religion. Unfortunately, the church, with its simple, saving Gospel of grace, devolved into a religious institution with an increasingly powerful hierarchy. The bishops of Rome consolidated their control in the West and, as the self-proclaimed vicars of Christ, indulged themselves at a level of pomp and extravagance that hadn’t been seen since the Caesars.
Last week, I came across the article far below regarding Francis’ plan to transform the papal summer palace, Castel Gandolfo, into a tourist stop. Has anyone else seen photos of this place? Unbelievable! Francis has definitely down-sized his personal living quarters, but that may be more of an accommodation to the scrutiny of an increasingly incredulous public than a desire for less ostentatious trappings.
If popes deported themselves as emperors, their subordinate bishops acted as princes. Their wealth matched and often surpassed that of temporal rulers. Centuries passed and bishops still retained a level of affluence that would have shocked and disgusted Peter, James, and John. Here in Rochester, New York, James E. Kearney (Bishop of Rochester, 1937-1966, d. 1977) resided at a mansion located at 947 East Avenue (see photo), just a stone’s throw from the estate of Kodak founder, George Eastman.
I was already vaguely familiar with the bishop’s mansion but I drove by yesterday to reacquaint myself with the grandiose structure. Rochester’s working-class Catholic families donated their hard-earned money every week so Kearney could live like a capitalist tycoon. The pastor of our parish drove a Chrysler Imperial. Anyone else remember those? It was Chrysler’s version of the Cadillac. I recall many negative comments about the priest driving a car that cost twice or triple the amount his parishioners paid for their cars. But he probably thought, “Hey, if the bishop can live in a mansion on East Avenue, I can drive an Imperial.”
But Kearney wasn’t alone. It was standard practice for Catholic bishops to locate their mansions on the same street as the wealthiest denizens of the diocesan see (seat). Bishops were always favored with places of honor at civic functions. Catholics and even non-Catholics formally greeted a bishop by kissing his episcopal ring and addressing him as “Your Excellency.” Traditionalists still consider it proper form to kiss a bishop’s ring but many bishops now discourage the practice although the “Your Excellency” title is still de rigueur.
Some contemporary bishops are following Francis’ lead and selling their mansions and moving into less ostentatious quarters while TBN’s prosperity preachers (Myers, Copeland, Duplantis, etc.) are exceeding the opulence of yesteryear’s Catholic bishops. Very strange. Jesus had no place to lay his head.
- Pope gives up another indulgence: his summer palace
- It’s not necessarily the end of an era for Castel Gandolfo
- Diocese of Greensburg’s mansion in Hempfield to go on market
“But Peter said, ‘I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk'” – Acts 3:6
“When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I too am a man.’” – Acts 10:25-16
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Matthew 6:19-21
“But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” – Matthew 20:25-28
“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” – Matthew 19:24
Postscript: Bishop Kearney’s former palatial digs at 947 East Ave. have been divided up into nine 800-square-foot condos.