John J. Myers, the Archbishop of Newark, is facing heavy criticism after a report from the New Jersey Star-Ledger detailing a $500,000 expansion to the archbishop's future home that he will use in retirement.
Construction on the 3,000-square-foot expansion is currently underway. The expansion will add an elevator, whirlpool, and several fireplaces to the five-bedroom, three-bath house already worth $800,000, according to the Star-Ledger.
Local residents didn't hold back their displeasure for the "Bishop of Bling," as he was dubbed by the Star-Ledger: "appalled," "disgrace," "hypocrites."
Yahoo News spoke with Jim Goodness, spokesperson for the Newark Archdiocese, about the reports.
"We understand that people who don't know all the facts may reach a conclusion that there's excessive opulence here. And that is not the case here.
"In terms of the elements of the expansion, those facts are correct. However, the interpretations of some of the elements are clearly incorrect," he continued.
Goodness said the "hot tub" mentioned in the Star-Ledger is actually a "whirlpool." The "indoor pool" is actually a "very small exercise pool that is used for therapeutic use." Goodness said the archbishop has arthritis that has to be treated.
Every diocese is required to "maintain and support" its retired bishops, Goodness said.
Goodness told Yahoo News that the Myers expansion was being funded by the planned sale of the home of a previous archbishop, Archbishop Peter L. Gerety.
"There is no parishioner money that is being used or being misdirected or directed away from ministry uses," he said. After the Gerety house is sold and the renovation and expansion to Myers' home are covered, Goodness expects "there will be hundreds of thousands of dollars available for ministry uses."
Much of the criticism also focused on Catholic schools that have closed over the past several years. Goodness told Talking Points Memo that the schools closed due to lowered enrollment, not lack of funds. He told Yahoo News that, "Over the last five or more years, the archdiocese has been providing $15 million to support Catholic schools."
Still, there is no getting around the fact that the expansion does contradict Pope Francis' well-publicized efforts to inspire those in the church to live more modest lives. When asked about that comparison, Goodness declined to comment.
Could the money being used for the expansion have gone toward helping the homeless or downtrodden? In a separate interview, Goodness told The New York Times that "any extra monies will go to the diocese."
Web reaction to the planned expansion detailed in the Star-Ledger has not been positive. WABC in New Jersey quoted one Newark resident as saying that Myers "should look more at the way the pope is living. If the pope could, he'd live in a tent."
In a letter to the Star-Ledger, Stephen E. Thorpe of Winfield Park, N.J., wrote, "Myers should sell that fancy spread in Franklin Township, put the proceeds into programs that help people less fortunate than he and move in with Gerety when he finally retires."
The Facebook page for the Archdiocese of Newark was slammed with negative comments. Twitter reaction was also overwhelmingly negative.
Over the river in Newark, we've got an Archbishop who is basically the anti-Francis http://t.co/TQ5jRwfH3H— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) February 21, 2014
Myers is set to retire in two years.
Follow Mike Krumboltz on Twitter (@mikekrumboltz).