The Philadelphia Inquirer announced this week that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia would be selling a historic property that has been housing the presiding cardinal or archbishop since 1935. The sixteen room mansion is valued at $10 million and sits on nearly nine picturesque acres near the edge of the city. It is presumed that in times past, immigrant parishioners were proud to see that the holy men who led the faithful were installed in beautiful rooms on lush grounds located far from the hard scrabble streets where they resided in crowded tenements. Even as late as the 1960s, against the backdrop of significant urban decline, the Philadelphia property was enhanced by a presiding prelate with amenities like a putting green. However, the mansion–and a seaside vacation house worth $6 million–has become a symbol of an embattled institution out of step with reality.
Perhaps it is not surprising then that the impending sale comes this week as Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap. celebrates his first year in office. In a letter to parishioners on this anniversary, the Franciscan Capuchin friar remarked, “At the archdiocesan level, along with continuing legal challenges, we have serious budget deficit and liquidity issues.” He went on to explain that the local Church does have the means to resolve these material issues, presumably through a radical new approach to stewardship.
Toward the end of his letter, Chaput boldly asserts:
The task of renewal will require deep changes in the thinking, behaviors, structures, procedures and organizational life of the diocese… In the years ahead, we need to speak the truth to each other with charity and respect – but also candidly, and without fear. This is the spirit that should animate every level of our Church life, including every pastoral council and finance council in every one of our parishes. No one ‘owns’ the Church: not the bishops; not the clergy; and not our people. She belongs to Jesus Christ and to him alone. But all of us in different ways, no matter what our vocation, have responsibility for the Church and her mission. We need to hold ourselves and each other accountable for living the faith with clean hearts and genuine zeal. The mark of mature Christian discipleship is honesty tempered with love.
As a convert to the faith, and one who came to it in a time of great darkness in Philadelphia, I take heart in the archbishop’s words. He has made decisions that many men before him could not and did not. And yet, there is so much more to be done. Perhaps the cardinal’s mansion could house a new institute devoted to researching and promoting best practices in responsible fiscal stewardship and transparency in church governance. After all, the building is being acquired by St. Joseph’s University. What better way for the next generation of laity and clergy to learn from the pain of the past?