Remodel the Cathedral: What a Boondoggle!

February 2001By James A. Henderson

James A. Henderson is a freelance writer living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is retired from a career in publishing.

Ed Note: The following is a response to Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland’s plan to spend $10 million on remodeling St. John’s, his classic Roman-style cathedral. The author wonders if freedom of speech still exists in Milwaukee, for he sent an earlier version of this piece to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the University of Wisconsin [Milwaukee] Post, the Marquette University Tribune, the Shepherd Express (an “alternative” weekly), and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s Catholic Herald — all of whom either rejected the piece or did not respond.

I don’t know what’s more disgusting, the proposed obscene $10-million reconfiguration of St. John’s Cathedral or the lack of outrage from self-defined caring Catholics. Many of us regularly receive financial appeals — e.g., for overseas missions, for feeding the destitute, for supporting worthy seminarians financially (how many future priests could be educated with that princely sum!).

In truth, a problem with today’s Catholic clergy, who squander money on “renovating” churches, is that most of them — even my archbishop — have never had to go out and make a living like the rest of us. They know nothing about timeclocks, downsizing, unemployment, competition, being fired, having no health insurance and no money to buy prescription drugs, etc. Never broke, they are subsidized by the faithful — all the way to the grave. Comfortably. So it’s easy for them to talk, to judge, to spend money. Many live in privilege — unchallenged, knowing they will always be backed by Holy Mother the Church (and a housekeeper and a secretary to boot). I don’t see any homeless priests roaming about, do you? Any on welfare? Any dining at homeless shelters?

And what the Church doesn’t provide is bestowed on them by well-meaning, overly generous parishioners — be it a nicer car, special allowances, gratis meals, gifts and liquor, vacations, travel expenses, etc. We cater to them because of their position, status, and authority. As a result, they’re often insulated and pampered. They lack few creature comforts — like weekly golf. Is it too much to expect that they live modestly, like Christ?

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