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what needs to change

By Diogenes (articles ) | Nov 07, 2004

Father Joe, according to the New Jersey Star Ledger, was concerned to avoid extremes of bodily mortification:

In Rumson, a jewel of a town by the Jersey Shore known for its quiet wealth and shaded lawns, the Rev. Joseph W. Hughes blended right in. There was the constant stream of luxury cars, the membership at the Rumson Country Club, the frequent vacations, and of course his big diamond ring. Father Hughes, pastor of Holy Cross Catholic Church for the past 16 years, seemed to dine out every night at pricey restaurants like the Fromagerie or Harry's Lobster Restaurant, often with the same few couples from church.

It turns out, alas, that Father has "boundary issues" regarding certain aspects of bookkeeping.

The Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office held a news conference in Freehold to announce that, between 2001 and 2004, Hughes allegedly misappropriated at least $500,000 of the church's funds to cover personal expenses such as limo rentals and airline tickets -- and bestow gifts on a 25-year-old male "personal friend," including a $58,000 BMW, giant-screen TV, stainless steel refrigerator, jewelry and trips to Bermuda and Cancun. The friend, David Rogers of Howell Township, is a $50,000-a-year employee of Holy Cross Church who performed maintenance work, authorities said.

Cynics out there, without knowing all the facts, will leap to the conclusion that there was something iniquitous in Fr. Hughes's relationship with Rogers. For my part, I'm willing to presume that Holy Cross had an unusually tricky lawn to mow and the Beemer was a simple gesture of gratitude for Rogers's alacrity as a maintenance man. That said, it's not out of line to raise some questions about accountability for the lifestyles of priests and bishops. Who's in charge here?

The Code of Canon Law #282 reads unequivocally: Clerics are to follow a simple way of life and avoid anything which smacks of worldliness. OK, that's not a bright-line rule, but it's pretty clear that Hughes is guided by neither the letter nor the spirit of this norm, and the same can be said of most bishops and many priests in the U.S. Has Canon 282 been abrogated? If so, that fact should be made public. Is it still in force? If so, it is honored more in the breach than the observance.

In 1983, at the conclusion of their pastoral letter The Challenge of Peace, our bishops committed themselves to a weekly fast and asked us to join them:

As a tangible sign of our need and desire to do penance we, for the cause of peace, commit ourselves to fast and abstinence on each Friday of the year. We call upon our people voluntarily to do penance on Friday by eating less food and by abstaining from meat. [298]

I'm not sneering at this exhortation -- in fact I'd rejoice to see more of the same. But it's not captious to point out that, in terms of 'leadership by example,' the bishops have failed both the laity and their own clergy regarding evangelical austerity. And note: this is not some duty we cooked up in the editorial pages, but a commitment the bishops themselves pledged to undertake. Can anyone name a bishop faithful to it?

There have been a few cautious moves in the right direction. Archbishop O'Malley abandoned the Cardinal's palace in Boston for modest digs; Cardinal George at least talked about moving out of his own residence, arguing, "How can I call on my priests to display humility in their lives if I'm living in a mansion like that?" A telling point. I don't know how it was answered.

At bottom, it's not a question of clerical diet or real estate, but of integrity of life. Evangelical simplicity is not a sufficient condition of this integrity, but it is a necessary condition. It's self-deluding gutlessness to allow a priest to pamper himself for sixteen hours a day and pretend that, for the remaining eight, he's going to be sober, prayerful, and chaste. Reform is needed, and it won't take place without reformers. Bishops who are truly earnest about reform, and not merely posing for the news cameras, could hardly do better than to put some teeth back into Canon 282, and they'll need to begin by applying it to themselves.

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Show 4 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: - Nov. 08, 2004 12:45 PM ET USA

    What's wrong with the chumps who put their donations in the plate every week? They had NO idea this priest was supporting a catamite in style with their offerings? Not one little hint or clue? Or did they culpably look the other way? The whole picture is wacky.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 08, 2004 11:40 AM ET USA

    Priests are now living away from the rectories, in apartments (whatever happened to community?), in their own homes, probably getting ready for a married clergy. When we got $50 a month and $1 stipends you couldn't find a happier bunch of men. If you want to destroy anyone, give them money - lots of it.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 08, 2004 9:30 AM ET USA

    The exhortations of pastoral letters seldom bear fruit because they are so often irrelevant to the purpose of the Church. It is good to be a faithful steward of the earth. Reason can come to this conclusion without the assistance of the Faith. Bishops and clergy need to seek a higher plane of knowledge and activity and lead us all to it! Too much in the way of material possessions has always been considered a distraction and should be avoided. Pray for the conversion of worldly clerics.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 07, 2004 7:23 PM ET USA

    This item rattled dry bones in my memory box. What war was going on in 1984? Or was this just the usual Liberal humbug? Fairly long ago Marshall Macluhan gave us the charming observation that "the medium is the message". Everything I can think of that has the slightest connection with the American "Peace" movement reeks of deceit and manipulation. Maybe that's why we red-dirt folks paid no attention to that pastoral letter.

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