In an age where newly installed Pope Francis preaches austerity and has lived the life he preaches, comes the news that the future retirement home of Archbishop John Myers is undergoing a 500 thousand dollar addition.

Now, if you’re like me and go to church often, you’re wondering to yourself, “…why do I give to the church merely to allow its “princes” to live in the lap of luxury? Especially when they have taken a vow of poverty.”

It must be noted, before I go on, that in the case of Archbishop Myers, he took no such oath.

But it still boggles the mind that parishioners who are hard pressed to come up with the money for “this or that” diocesan appeal, and are made to feel guilty for not doing so – still seem to shrug their shoulders knowing how church elders are treated once they leave active life.

Do you still give to the church – or have you given up on your religion altogether?

The 4,500-square-foot home sits on 8.2 wooded acres in the hills of Hunterdon County. With five bedrooms, three full bathrooms, a three-car garage and a big outdoor pool, it’s valued at nearly $800,000, records show.

But it’s not quite roomy enough for Newark Archbishop John J. Myers.

Myers, who has used the Franklin Township house as a weekend residence since the archdiocese purchased it in 2002, is building a three-story, 3,000-square-foot addition in anticipation of his retirement in two years, The Star-Ledger found. He will then move in full-time, a spokesman for the archbishop said.

The new wing will include an indoor exercise pool, a hot tub, three fireplaces, a library and an elevator, among other amenities, according to blueprints and permits filed with the Franklin Township building department.

The price tag, the records show, will be a minimum of a half million dollars, a figure that does not include architectural costs, furnishings and landscaping.

Construction is progressing as Myers asks the 1.3 million Roman Catholics of the archdiocese to open their wallets for the "archbishop’s annual appeal," a fundraising effort that supports an array of initiatives, including religious education, the training of future priests and feeding the poor.

More significantly, it comes at a time when Pope Francis has made profligate church spending a target of his early tenure.

Francis, who eschewed the papal palace for a modest guest apartment and who gave up a Mercedes in favor of a Ford, has criticized bishops for living "like princes" and has called for a "poor church for the poor."

Charles Zech, who has studied bishops’ spending as faculty director of the Center for Church Management and Business Ethics at Villanova University’s business school said,"Archbishop Myers obviously is not paying any attention to the pope."

"The pope is calling on clergy to live a simpler lifestyle and to be in touch with their people," Zech said. "This is extreme, way beyond what you’d expect to happen. I can’t believe the parishioners of Newark are going to allow this to happen."

One such parishioner, Joan Rubino, was furious when a reporter told her about the work on the Franklin Township home. Rubino, who has attended Holy Family Church in Nutley for four decades — and who regularly contributed to the archbishops’ appeal — called Myers a "hypocrite."

"To ask people to make sacrifices and then to live in a sumptuous residence, it makes me very annoyed," said Rubino, 77. "Isn’t there a better use for this money? In plain English, I feel like people are getting screwed."

Earlier this year, Camden Bishop Dennis Sullivan came under fire after using diocese funds to buy a historic 7,000-square-foot home in Woodbury. The house, with eight bedrooms and six bathrooms, cost $500,000.

A spokesman for the diocese said last month Sullivan would live at the house with at least two other priests and that it would be used to host diocese functions.

The Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior analyst for the National Catholic Reporter, said it’s important to remember that Myers, as a diocesan priest, has not taken a vow of poverty. Some diocesan priests inherit large sums of family money. Others supplement their modest salaries by writing books.
The difficulty, particularly in the age of Francis, is one of perception, Reese said.

"How is this going to go over with the people who put their $10 in the collection basket?" he asked. "How is it going to go over with the big donors who give millions to schools? What kind of message is this sending?"

Obviously it sends the WRONG message – and one that a good many Catholics like myself question each and every time the basket in church is passed around.

Do you feel Myers, for any retiring member of the clergy for that matter, needs to have such lavish accommodations upon retiring? And, more importantly, are you willing to support them?

I'm sure they're not doing like my wife does each time we get the Ledger on Sunday.

Clipping coupons!