Several prominent Catholic leaders have made a name for themselves in recent months for extravagant spending and lavish lifestyles. Last October, the Vatican suspended the duties of one German bishop, proclaimed the “Bishop of Bling.”
According to BBC News, the 53-year- old Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst spent approximately $43 million on renovations to his personal residence. Tebartz-van Elst’s spending habits were not only limited to his home; he once flew first class to India on a mission to aid the poor.
After a meeting with Pope Francis, Tebartz-van Elst was put on leave of absence, and late last month, the Vatican announced that he was retiring. More recently, the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Atlanta has come under fire for purchasing a $2.2 million mansion in the city’s lavish Buckhead neighborhood.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, it sits on property that was bequeathed to the Archdiocese of Atlanta by a family member of “Gone With The Wind” author Margaret Mitchell. The property, and in total $15 million, was meant to be used for charity. Archbishop Wilton Gregory will leave the mansion in May.
So far, the Vatican has not commented on Gregory’s home. Such actions from high-ranking officials of the Catholic Church are in stark contrast to the Pope’s advocacy of simple living. Francis, who is known for using public transportation and declining the traditional papal residence, is not taking such instances of extravagant spending lightly. DePaul and the Archdiocese of Chicago are not removed from these stories, either.
When asked about simplicity closer to home, Father Ed Udovic, Secretary of the University and Senior Executive for University Mission, said, “For over a century the cardinal archbishop of Chicago has lived in one of the grandest mansions in Chicago, and despite ongoing criticism, the Archbishop of Chicago still lives there.”
The property Udovic is referring to is a mansion located near the south end of Lincoln Park. According to the Archdiocese of Chicago’s website, the three-story mansion features 19 chimneys and two entry facades. Cardinal Francis George has resided in the home since 1997.
According to a 2002 New York Times article, George considered selling the home, then estimated at a value of $15 million. He called it “too much house for a humble servant of God,” the Times reported.
“When Pope Francis was asked why he chose not to live in the traditional ‘Apostolic Palace’ his response was that the idea of an apostolic ‘palace’ was an oxymoron,” Udovic said regarding the Pope’s approach to lead a simpler lifestyle, for both the clergy and parishioners.
With the Pope stepping in to take action in cases such as that of Tebartz-van Elst’s, many are calling for further action and dialogue from the Vatican. Udovic expressed optimism for the future.
“Hopefully the new pope will begin to appoint bishops whose idea of apostolic simplicity and witness is different from much of the present church leadership in the United States and elsewhere,” he said.
When prompted with the question of how to view these issues in terms of ethics and morality, DePaul professor Phillip Moulden responded, “To critique leaders of the church is always challenging. I think you could look at the vows that the priest takes to see if there are any guidelines there for them to follow. Secondly, you should look to the Bible for guidelines or directives that apply. It seems to me that Divine Command Theory is most applicable in this case. Third, I think you should delve more deeply into what the Pope has said on this matter,” Moulden said.
Given the dialogue and recent action from the Vatican, it would seem that the Pope has been undergoing this very careful examination himself. However, church leaders are not the only ones faced with the dilemma of money and what to do with it.
“I think there is always a challenge to all of us who live with financial security to give more to others and less to ourselves due to the scope of poverty in this world,” Moulden said.