Thursday, May 18, 2017

When the clergy are the 1%

This might strike readers as unusual but sometimes I just don’t know what to say. 

Earlier this month I received an email from the Pontifical North American College (PNAC) inviting me to join its rector on a pilgrimage.  PNAC is the US bishops’ seminary in Rome.  Somehow, I do not think of myself as being on the PNAC’s “A” list for invitations to anything.  Nonetheless, I received the invitation. 

Maybe some readers would like to join the PNAC trip so here’s a link to the flyer advertising the trip. 

Receiving the invitation is not what left me speechless.  It was the pilgrimage’s description and price…$7,699 per person for a 9 night luxury cruise on the Mediterranean.  There is also an option for $12,399 per person for folks with more discerning tastes.  The flyer describes free-flowing champagne, butlers, room service, shoe shine service, spas and marble-clad bathrooms…you know…all the amenities Jesus had.  I am sure there will be reflection exercise on “where would Jesus cruise” and “what kind of marble would inspire Jesus to excrete.”

To put this in perspective, the global annual median salary in 2012 was estimated at about $1,225 USD.  Thus, the modest per person pilgrimage package, in the name of Jesus, is equivalent to about 6 people’s annual income.  About every day and a half on the cruise, each of these fine pious folks will burn through the equivalent of one person’s entire annual income.  The more luxurious package equates to 10 people’s annual income, burning through more than a person’s annual income equivalent per day. 

And I had no words for weeks.

Thankfully my words have returned.

It is one thing to opt to spend money in this way.  It is another thing to think somehow you are closer to Jesus by lavishing the equivalent of people’s annual income on yourself each day for a course of 9 days.  It is yet another thing to do this as a priest, who theologically I am told intrinsically reminds me of Jesus and operates in persona Christi.  But it is beyond the pale to be the rector of a premiere Catholic seminary, responsible for forming priests for an entire nation and undertake this kind of extravagance.  But hey, they will say Mass every day aboard the cruise ship. 

Pope Francis, this is all happening in your backyard.  Can you do something about that?  You are scheduled to meet with the rector a few days before his trip because this “pilgrimage” is all timed around diaconate ordinations of PNAC transitional deacons.  I hope everyone has their Gucci chasubles back from the cleaners for the occasion.

In this same timeframe, two priests in my diocese have been arrested for embezzlement, one from my parents’ former parish and the other from my sister’s former parish.  Here’s a link to information about one and the other.  Both are accused of embezzling several hundred thousand dollars and one seems to have embezzled about $1.85M from parish coffers to pay for his rather grand gated residence.

The bishop and his staff are said to be fully cooperating with police and both priests may well serve prison time.  The bishop has been on television regarding at least one of these priests, explaining he is a sinner who succumbed to temptation.  He asks the good people of each parish to withhold judgement until the criminal justice systems plays out…innocent until proven guilty…though in each case it was the diocese’s audit that surfaced suspicions which prompted the bishop to call the police.  So, the laity are to withhold judgement but evidently the bishop already suspects guilt, or he would not have turned these guys over to police. 

I find it peculiar that the rector of PNAC goes on a cruise for over $850 per day (not including airfare) and we call that a “pilgrimage” and sprinkle all sorts of holy awe around it whilst two other guys from the same brotherhood merely did stuff like take about $844/day and $228/day respectively (if you average $1.85M and $500K over 6 years’ time.) To me it is two sides of the same coin.  The embezzlers are a bit of a bargain compared to the rector.  I guess these guys saw their superiors living marble-clad lives and just went about securing that lifestyle for themselves the wrong way. 

In general, I think the PNAC pilgrimage involves more moral bankruptcy than the two embezzling priests.   With the embezzlement situations, most likely people gave money innocently albeit incorrectly thinking their money would be used for good causes.  In the case of the PNAC cruise, people knowingly are paying for themselves and the rector to live in luxury, deluding themselves that this equates to pious devotion. 

Truly, I believe the best chance of encountering Jesus on the PNAC cruise might be in the experiences of very likely underpaid cruise employees serving as butlers, shoe shines and wine stewards.

In both the PNAC and embezzler situations, it seems a clamoring to live like the 1%.  Though I probably would fail to answer correctly the question, "which marble inspires Jesus to poo," I will go out on a limb and guess that "what would Jesus do" does not involve butler service.  I've been looking for the gospel passages where Jesus said to lavish upon one's self and ignore the poor.  Alas, that only seems to be in the gospel according to Paul Ryan and the Mighty Pious Catholic Republicans.  Have mercy on us!

Might I suggest that they follow Sia's advice and pursue "Cheap Thrills" that "don't need dollar bills to have fun...?"  It avoids scandal and might help eliminate prison time...provided there's not a sexual impropriety issue as well.  Just a suggestion...