|Bishop William Murphy aka "Mansion Murphy" should be Pope Francis' next
victim in his war on "Bishops of Bling"
Many of the world's top bishops expect a certain degree of deference. Even more of them expect their creature comforts. They ask and they usually receive.
Take Bishop William Murphy, bishop of the Rockville Centre diocese out on Long Island. Thanks to his high-living antics he was dubbed 'Mansion Murphy' by Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist, Jimmy Breslin.
When Murphy took over the former convent at St. Agnes Cathedral, he turfed out the last six aged nuns, and then he set about creating an upscale private residence with no expense spared. That's how his memorable nickname was coined.
Murphy remade three new spaces on the third floor of the former convent. One for himself and included a bedroom, a fine marble bath, a living room with an open fire and a large study.
There was also a dining room with a long table and twelve nicely upholstered chairs. A second suite for Murphy's on-call secretary - again, ask and you shall receive, your excellency.
The third suite became what Murphy reportedly called the Cardinal's Suite, and with that billing we can assume it is the most opulent of all.
It's estimated the renovation work that Murphy has ordered costed over $5 million, which includes the $1.6 million for placing gold plating on the brass pipes of the church organ.
I suppose we should be happy he didn't do the same with his teeth.
But here's where true connoisseurs will perk up. In the kitchen he reportedly spent $120,000 on a Sub-Zero refrigerator and freezer unit and a six-burner Viking professional range. You can only imagine the wonderfully tony affairs that kind of chef level setting produces.
Murphy's pantry reportedly has a temperature-controlled wine-storage cabinet that can hold 50 bottles, with the temperature set at an ideal 45 degrees for white wine and champagne, and 55 degrees for red wine. Champagne tastes on a champagne budget? Jay Gatsby should be his neighbor. Clearly Mansion Murphy is a bishop for our times.
But he may no longer be one for Pope Francis'.
Our new pope is fond of frugality, preferring good deeds to good wine storage. Since becoming pope, Francis has continually urged the church to strip itself of all 'vanity, arrogance and pride.'
As is becoming increasingly clear, he's serious. On Thursday he Tweeted on his Pontifex account: 'Being a Christian means renouncing ourselves, taking up the cross and carrying it with Jesus. There is no other way.'
But in fact, for centuries now, there has been another way of course. It involves limousines and mansions and international high living. Is it time it stopped? Is the pope serious?
To underline his point about frugality Francis drives around the Vatican City in a 20-year-old Renault rust bucket. He has eschewed the papal palace for more modest digs. He washes the feet of the poor and he makes conciliatory moves to communities the church has long marginalized. He's enough to scald the hearts of lavish living bishops who listen to his 'blessed are the poor and the unfortunate' sermons and roll their eyes.
One such eye rolling bishop is Bishop Franz Peter Tebartz-van Elst, the German bishop now known by his own parishioners as the bishop of Bling. Bishop Tebartz-van Elst has been making international headlines for the ambitious remodeling he's been doing to his official residence.
Last week the pope was told that the final costs of Tebartz-van Elst own private Graceland may reach as much as $55 million, which is an eye-popping $13 million over the already substantial price tag.
His bathtub alone cost $30,000, which is more than millions of Americans made through all last year. The work on his garden also cost over a millions bucks. There are South American drug lords who can only dream of high living this high off the hog.
"Bishop Bling" likes to travel first class to India to minister to the poor. Unsurprisingly, he's not especially liked. Four thousand of his own parishioners recently signed an open letter to him criticizing him for his authoritarian style.
Considering the headlines he's made, Pope Francis had little choice but to expel him this week pending a church inquiry into his $43-million residence. I can't imagine he'll be allowed to stay on.
Meanwhile the website that documents the abuse crisis in the American church notes that Mansion Murphy was a prominent figure in the Boston archdiocese. They claim he is preventing the names of 32 priests from being made public.
Due to the fact he worked in the diocese headquarters in Boston when notorious abusers like Father John Geoghan and Father Paul Shanley were being constantly transferred to unsuspecting parishes, ‘Mansion Murphy’ is unlikely to ever become a cardinal. But with a live-in secretary and a $5 million remodeling job, he can console himself in very considerable comfort.
Until he hears from the pope, perhaps. As he may well do soon.
Watch a video about Bishop Franz Peter Tebartz-van Elst here: