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Cardinal Wuerl and the critic who won't let go

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Dec 17, 2015

George Neumayr, the former editor of Catholic World Report, has been hounding Washington’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl, asking questions about the expensive “penthouse apartment” that now serves as the cardinal’s residence. Neumayr’s posted remarks about Cardinal Wuerl have been extremely negative, and his line of inquiry is obviously hostile; it’s not hard to understand why Cardinal Wuerl would want to avoid his questions.

But twice within the past week, Neumayr has been escorted out of a building where the cardinal was having a book-signing event. Neumayr insists that he was polite, and did not disrupt the event. Since I was not an eyewitness, I cannot vouch for the facts. But it seems clear that either a reporter refused to take “No comment” for an answer, or a prelate refused even to say that he would not comment. Journalists have a right to ask questions. Their subjects have the right not to answer. Someone misbehaved.

Meanwhile Neumayr’s increasingly shrill cries for public attention threaten to drown out the questions that he had originally asked. Is Cardinal Wuerl really living in opulence? Do the “personal chef” and the Embassy Row apartment bespeak a lifestyle at odds with the pleas of Pope Francis for a “Church that is poor, and for the poor?” When a German prelate was removed from office amid charges that he was the “Bishop of Bling,” it’s not unreasonable to ask such questions about the cardinal who has emerged as the American prelate most influential in the appointment of new bishops here.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Don Vicente - Dec. 19, 2015 1:47 PM ET USA

    Cardinal Wuerl's living quarters and chapel are in the same building as Our Lady Queen of the Americas church. The building was formerly Mackin Catholic H.S. Granted, his 3rd floor quarters are on the top floor of the building, but that's a pretty low floor to be called a "penthouse" IMHO. I guess that the pastors of the few parishes that actually still have cooks could be said to have "personal chefs," if you wanted to put it that way. Comfortable quarters? Sure. Bling? I don't think so

  • Posted by: rjbennett1294 - Dec. 19, 2015 8:54 AM ET USA

    I too am skeptical about Cardinal Wuerl's lifestyle. I think, however, we ought to be fair to Bishop Tebartz-van Elst, the "Bishop of Bling" and former Bishop of Limburg, Germany. His lifestyle was not really so different from other bishops in the supremely wealthy German Church. What the lay people in his diocese really objected to was his adherence to the traditional teachings of the Church. If he'd thought and believed like many other virtually heretical German bishops, he'd have been safe.

  • Posted by: hartwood01 - Dec. 18, 2015 10:27 PM ET USA

    Certainly it's disheartening to see clergy who indulge in the finest of living spaces,food and drink,lacy albs, very expensive vestments,exotic frequent vacations. Hard to imagine Jesus living that lifestyle. Just as edifying is the simple-living priest who is happy to be with his flock and doesn't need to be told to "smell like his sheep".

  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Dec. 18, 2015 8:19 PM ET USA

    Thanks Phil for highlighting this condition. Doesn't the Pope know where his cardinals live. They sure know where he lives and where he has lived.

  • Posted by: - Dec. 18, 2015 6:43 PM ET USA

    What's good for one [german bishop] should be good for another!!