erbe column sig

State, national columnists

Cardinals’ lavish lifestyle is too much

By From page A11 | March 15, 2013

Obviously, I wasn’t in charge of selecting the new pope, Francis, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina. If I’d been in charge of the College of Cardinals, the selection process would have looked completely different.

We all know that the Roman Catholic Church is enveloped in a galactic array of scandals. It is said that when people are in trouble they should look to their roots to find solutions. That sage advice should apply to cardinals as well. They could look back to the figure on whose teachings the church was founded and emulate him. Would Jesus Christ have allowed his followers to carry on with the pomp and circumstance the cardinals and other members of the church hierarchy employed? Methinks not.

The cardinals’ elaborate costumes and their luxurious quarters date back to the beginning of the first millennium, when the church was still largely controlled or heavily influenced by the Holy Roman Emperor. As Constantine had converted his empire from paganism to Christianity, so his successors controlled the early church’s leadership. In a power grab in the year 1059, church officials took advantage of the fact that Henry IV was only 6 when he became Holy Roman Emperor – and had no power. They wrested control of appointing the church’s most powerful leader from the secular realm and placed it in church hands.

In the 2,000-plus years since Christ lived, the church has changed from a group whose leaders and followers eschewed wealth and its trappings (remember Jesus tossing the money lenders and financiers out of the temple?) to a group that worshipped money in a figurative sense almost as much as they worshipped God.

I’m not suggesting the pope or the cardinals revert to wearing sackcloth. But the specter of a convention of mainly very white and very old men, adorned in silk robes and luxuriating in the Vatican’s high-priced real estate does not sit well. It sits particularly unwell at a time when the modern era has drawn back the cloak of secrecy that used to shield from public view such things as the massive priest pedophilia scandal. A shift to a less opulent lifestyle would serve the church hierarchy well at least from a public-relations perspective.

So, too, would some fast thinking on the issue of who qualifies to sit in the College of Cardinals, thereby to engage in the selection of a pope. The fact that the electors included the former archbishop of Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony, was a stinging slap across the face of the thousands who were sexually molested by priests when they were young. Mahony and an ex-priest are paying four men almost $10 million to settle allegations that they covered up child sex abuse by a priest.

I think of low-income workers who live just above the poverty level and nonetheless tithe each Sunday. I think of parents who entrusted their young sons to church choirs and Catholic schools decades ago, only to find out their children were raped by mentally unbalanced men of the cloth. Having those culpable in the scandal continue to take part in the college’s work – and to be granted the wealthy lifestyle normally afforded to CEOs and U.S. presidents – was stunningly insensitive.

The church would do better to swiftly ax corrupt members of its hierarchy and dial down their luxurious lifestyles. Leaders would not have to look far for examples. They’d just have to crack open the New Testament.

Bonnie Erbe, host of PBS’ “To the Point,” writes this weekly column for Scripps Howard News Service. Email [email protected]

Bonnie Erbe


Discussion | 5 comments

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  • G-ManMarch 14, 2013 - 2:16 pm

    Just another racket..one should know though that the Pope's apt at the Vatican is not exactly luxurious...photos I've seen present a rather shabby place..large..but not exactly a place to be featured on "Cribs"......Pope John Paul II I heard slept on a simple single bed..a tick or two above a cot...of course there's also the Prada shoes..seem de rigeur for the well dressed Pontiff these days..Wasn'tthere a movie?.."The(somebody,I forget)wearsPrada"?

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  • G-ManMarch 14, 2013 - 2:19 pm

    Bonnie I don't think mentioned how frugal Francis is...forsaking the Limo for the Bus..living in a simple apt rather than the upscale quarters afforded Argentine's Cardinal..maybe some of his frugality will rub off on the princes of the church.

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  • PatriotMarch 15, 2013 - 6:20 am

    Cardinals, Arch Bishops and Priest all live like kings. This is even after many have left the church due to the molestations and "Canon law" abuses. Priests are able to do whatever they want to with very little oversight by their Bishops..They are wined and dined by parishers and believe they are supposed to be treated like "Kings"..There are many that have used their power to abuse those they didn't like..I see some hope in the newer generation we have now and cannot wait for their elder priests to retire!

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  • Terry D.March 16, 2013 - 10:35 am

    Dear Bonnie, Regarding your cardinal lifesyle op-ed. I have kept other articals or yours that I have found interesting. One in particlur on Religion and Atheisism. Your latest article on the opulent life style of the hierarchy as they preach against birth control to the poorest of the poor, belies all reason. This is one more reason that I, at age 77, have found complete peace of mind in accepting Atheism as the most rational belief. How anyone that reads of scientific discoveries over the centuries can swallow these myths is beyond me. Unfortunatly, in our society, I and my chemist husband, have found it necessary to remain "in the closet" during our working years. We found this necessary in order not to be eliminated from possible advancement or ability to join in everday clubs, etc. in the area that we live. Now that we are retired, it has been interesting when the subject arises, we speak our minds and don't care who knows what our beliefs are, even to those who have known us for many years. Now we get to know who are our true freinds. Incidentally, we have had true sympathy for our gay friends, as we know how it feels not to feel free in this society to be or believe other than what the majority believes. Keep up the great editorials. Terry D.

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  • Joseph GoldmanDecember 05, 2013 - 8:18 pm

    This is really disappointing commentary. Can you please site in your article when you had the audience with your Bishop or Cardinal or the Pope in Rome in their personal quarters so you can write about firsthand knowledge of their lifestyles? Every priest I grew up with lived like paupers. They didn't own property; they didn't drive cars; they had no other clothing or shoes than their standard priests' black shirt and pants getup. I know there have been some bad apples in the Church and they should be found and punished. But people need to stop making sweeping generalizations bashing all of the them. The Catholic Church is the largest provider of social services in the world. It's not like they don't do any good for anyone.

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