Thursday, January 9, 2014
Bishop's new mansion draws criticism from flock
Phil Dunn Courier Post January 4, 2014 Catholics in South Jersey were quick to point out Jesus was born in a manger — not a mansion — after news broke that the Diocese of Camden has plunked down a half-million dollars for Bishop Dennis Sullivan’s new digs in Woodbury. The 7,000-square-foot mansion previously was the residence of former Rowan University president Donald Farish. Sullivan, who took over leadership of the diocese after Bishop Joseph Galante retired in 2012, sought the new home to hold meetings with church donors and dignitaries. Before coming to Camden, Sullivan worked as vicar general and auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New York. He lived and worked in midtown Manhattan, in a particularly posh neighborhood near Rockefeller Center. Sullivan currently lives in an apartment near the St. Pius X Retreat House in Blackwood. “This is a joke,” said John Miller of Deptford. “Jesus was born in a stable. We have a rectory right there in Camden, the headquarters of the diocese, where the bishop could live. If I’m a benefactor, I want to give money to a humble man, not because he is throwing this lavish affair.” Ron Johnson of Woodbury said the diocese should have used the $500,000 to help restore churches and schools that have closed. “Amazing that the Catholic Church has money for this extravagant home despite the apparent financial crisis that has led to the closing of many Catholic schools and several churches,” he said. In recent years, the diocese has closed several schools in Cumberland County and neighboring communities, including Sacred Heart High School in Vineland; St. Mary Magdalen Regional School in Millville; and Notre Dame Regional School in Buena and Newfield. The Woodbury mansion was built by Frank H. Stewart in 1908. The gray stone house — with eight bedrooms and six bathrooms — is described as one of the city’s grandest homes. Other amenities include an in-ground pool, three fireplaces, a library and a five-car garage. The diocese purchased the home from Rowan University for $500,000 on Dec. 23. The university bought the property in 2000 for Farish, but put it on the market when he left the school in 2011. “The diocese purchased the property because the bishop needs a residence and space to hold meetings with potential donors and benefactors,” diocesan spokesman Peter Feuerherd said. “It will well pay for itself and more. We realize others may have a different opinion, but that was the rationale behind the purchase.” Stuart Charmé, a Rutgers-Camden professor of religion, noted Pope Francis has set a tone for the church regarding concern for the poor and service to them. And the pontiff has personally shunned most of the amenities of his office. “So others in the church need to be particularly careful about any actions that might give the impression church leaders live lives of luxury paid for by the donations of common people,” the professor explained. “At a time when there is a greater disparity in wealth between those at the top and those at the bottom, it would be disappointing, to say the least, if that phenomenon were also found in religious institutions.” The Cooper Street mansion originally was listed for about $800,000. Feuerherd noted the diocese will finalize the sale of its Blackwood property for $395,000 in early January. The diocese will have to furnish the Woodbury mansion, and Feuerherd was unsure if the property would be tax-exempt. According to property records, taxes are $31,000 annually. “I’m guessing the Diocese of Camden is going to plead poverty and get tax-free treatment,” Johnson said.