Catholic diocese buys $500,000 mansion for NJ bishop; bad move in Francis era?

When I read the news late last week that the Camden, N.J. Diocese is buying a $500,000 mansion for Bishop Dennis Sullivan, my first thought was ‘That’s not a wise move.’

With a few days to read more on the transaction, it doesn’t look any better. To be blunt, lavish purchases such as this are bound to attract the unwanted attention of Pope Francis.

This photo taken on May 1, 2006, shows the exterior to Rowan University President Donald Farish's house in Woodbury, N.J. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Camden has bought the mansion to use for the bishop's home and church functions. Diocese spokesman Peter Feuerherd said more space was needed for Bishop Dennis Sullivan to meet with donors, benefactors and use as workspace. The $500,000 sale closed on Dec. 23, 2013. The bishop currently lives in an apartment at the St. Pius X Retreat House in Blackwood, N.J. Photo: Al Schell, AP

This photo taken on May 1, 2006, shows the exterior to Rowan University President Donald Farish’s house in Woodbury, N.J. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Camden has bought the mansion to use for the bishop’s home and church functions. Diocese spokesman Peter Feuerherd said more space was needed for Bishop Dennis Sullivan to meet with donors, benefactors and use as workspace. The $500,000 sale closed on Dec. 23, 2013. The bishop currently lives in an apartment at the St. Pius X Retreat House in Blackwood, N.J. Photo: Al Schell, AP

To make a purchase like this on the heels of well-publicized escapades of German Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, 53, defies sensible logic.

To recap the latter episode, Tebartz-van Elst reportedly let the cost of renovating his residence and other church buildings balloon to more than $41 million. German news media mocked luxuries like a $20,000 bathtub, a $1.1 million landscaped garden and plans for an 800-square-foot fitness room.

Francis was not amused and suspended Tebartz-van Elst in October. The pope’s popularity has soared amid reports of his rejection of comforts and concern for the less fortunate.

In short, now is not the time for Catholic leaders to be spending big. Bishop Sullivan seemingly didn’t get the memo.

According to the National Catholic Reporter, the historic mansion once served as the home of the president of Rowan University. The NCR also reported:


The New Jersey diocese purchased the 7,000 square foot home with eight bedrooms and six bathrooms for $500,000. The residence will provide Sullivan with more room for entertaining dignitaries, hosting donors and for work space, according to Peter Feuerherd, diocesan spokesman.

He said the bishop will live there “with at least two other priests, maybe more.”

The home, built in 1908, has been on the market for about two years. According to a report in the Camden Courier Post newspaper, the home was purchased in 2000 for Dr. Donald Farish, then president of Rowan University. Under the university’s ownership, the house underwent about $700,000 in renovations.

Some of the amenities include an in-ground pool, three fireplaces, a library and a five-car garage.

What do you think — did the diocese spend too much money for this home? Should/will Francis take action?

About John Hilton

I grew up in Susquehanna County, Pa. and graduated Syracuse University with a dual degree in journalism/political science in 1998. After working for nearly three years for a weekly paper in upstate New York, I came to southcentral Pennsylvania. I spent 13 years as a reporter and editor for The Sentinel in Carlisle and joined the York Daily Record as religion reporter in September 2011.
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