Showing posts with label archdiocese. Show all posts
Showing posts with label archdiocese. Show all posts

Thursday, January 23, 2020

The abomination of Trumpolation

It has been many years since I've wanted a goddamned thing to do with the professionalized, politicized "pro-life" movement. Why? Because it's God-damned.

That sad fact becomes clearer by the day, if not by the minute.

Any organization that isn't wouldn't mock the Almighty by saying, with apparently straight faces -- both of them -- that Donald John Trump was "a voice for the unborn and continuously working to build a culture of life." That is a whopper of Trumpian proportions, at least.

Trumpian, hell. Orwellian.

Having Trump speak at an alleged March for Life is like having the ghost of Joseph Goebbels keynote an Anti-Defamation League convention. This most vile and dangerous of American presidents is building some kind of culture, alt-right all right, and it is anything but a "culture of life."

A CULTURE OF LIFE does not see ripping children from their parents at the border, then placing them in squalid and overcrowded Border Patrol stations as a feature and not a bug.

A culture of life's stance on the treatment of women does not include "grab 'em by the pussy."

A culture of life does not celebrate war crimes, it does not threaten war crimes, and it does not tolerate peacetime assassinations of foreign leaders.

A culture of life seeks to ease the struggles of the poor -- it does not cut their SNAP benefits.

A culture of life takes a dim view -- a really dim view -- of referring to women as "dogs."

A culture of life does not claim there's "some very fine people" among neo-Nazis and other white supremacists.

A culture of life does not celebrate someone who's told 16,241 public lies in his first three years in office.

A culture of life is not racist.

A culture of life is not anti-Semitic.

I could go on, but it's late and I'm tired.

WHEN I SAW the March of Life's tweet, the first thing -- literally -- that came to mind was "abomination of desolation." That's Bible speak, roughly describing something horrific and defiling. Apocalyptic, even. Think of erecting pagan monuments on the ruins of the temple in Jerusalem, as the Romans did.

Think of building an altar to Satan in a Catholic church.

Think of having Donald John Trump speak at a March for Life.

I'm thinking of the Archdiocese of Omaha sending busloads of teenagers to the March for Life -- and all of its hyperpoliticized Trumpdolatry -- like lambs to the spiritual and ideological slaughter. One of three things is likely to happen to each poor soul, and none is good:

* The kid might die of irony overload right on the spot.

* The kid might become a MAGA enthusiast, endangering his or her immortal soul and causing much harm to others somewhere down the road.

* The kid might be unusually perceptive, see this for the evil, blasphemous bullshit that it really is, take note of who and what brought him or her into this moral clusterfuck . . . and be lost to the Church (or Christianity, period) forever.

What an amazing witness for Christ. America -- and the church -- will have much to suffer because of such sulfurous subversion from the depths of hell.

I'm also imagining Jesus on one of those buses full of Nebraska teens as it crosses the Potomac River. It is written, "As he drew near, he saw the city and wept over it."

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Omaha . . . I am your archbishop

The Diocese of Springfield, Ill., where the Vatican went to find Omaha's next archbishop, was a MESS when Bishop George Lucas got there, and he's spent a decade trying to clean it up.

Lucas will find his next see to be merely a mess, with the most pressing problem being that vocations to the priesthood here have dried up -- the Archdiocese of Omaha will ordain no new priests this year and none next year, either.

Other than that, the new prelate will face a bunch of run-of-the-mill millennial Catholic crises . . . lousy religious education for the church's youth, not enough priests to do the job, the ongoing ecclesiastical Fifth Column that is Catholic secondary and higher education, etcetera and so on.

HERE'S A BIT from this afternoon's story in the Omaha World-Herald:
In his prepared remarks, Lucas said he is humbled to be given the responsibility of leading the 220,000-member Omaha Archdiocese.

"I look forward to learning about all the ways the Gospel is preached and lived in the Archdiocese of Omaha," he said. "I have a great deal to learn and you all have much to teach me."

Lucas showed he had done his homework by prominently mentioning Catholic schools, a focus in the family and social lives of many Omahans. He said even a casual observer would be impressed by Catholic education here.

"I look forward to not being a casual observer, but an active participant in this endeavor," he said.

To priests, Lucas said, "Not only will I depend on you to teach me, I will depend on you to support me, as I support you."

To non-Catholics, Lucas said he had been very active in inter-faith work in Illinois and plans to continue that in Omaha.

Lucas, 59, was named today by Pope Benedict XVI as the replacement for retiring Omaha Archbishop Elden F. Curtiss, who had submitted his mandatory resignation when he turned 75 two years ago this month.


Pope John Paul II appointed Lucas bishop of Springfield in October 1999. He was installed Dec. 14, 1999.

The Springfield diocese is home to about 170,000 Catholics in 164 parishes, according to the diocesan Web site.

The diocese, in south-central Illinois, is served by 99 active diocesan priests and 62 religious order priests. The diocese also has eight Catholic hospitals, a religious seminary, a Catholic university, a Catholic college, seven Catholic high schools and 54 Catholic elementary schools.

Lucas comes to Omaha under much different circumstances than when he went to Illinois in 1999. A sex-abuse scandal involving the former Springfield bishop, Daniel Ryan, was brewing in Springfield at the time. It eventually erupted into greater scandal and lawsuits along with the national clergy sex-abuse crisis.

In an interview today, Lucas said the diocese had taken the steps it needed to take to protect children, to be transparent and to ensure that the diocese was operating with integrity.

That said, he added, "The hurt of the abuse is still felt very deeply by those who were abused."
BUT AT LEAST he won't -- at this writing at least -- have to deal with allegations his predecessor had a taste for underage boys or deal with a diocesan chancellor who gets beaten up in city parks by teens who take umbrage at being propositioned for sex.

If he's lucky, he won't have to call in an outside investigator here in the next five years, and he won't have the Omaha equivalent of the radically traditionalist, bomb-throwing
Roman Catholic Faithful accusing him of a hands-off policy toward "predatory homosexuals." That and of having a taste for high-school boys himself.

The Decatur (Ill.) Herald & Review
reported on the whole mess in August 2006:
Lucas called for an investigation of alleged clergy misconduct "amid a climate of increasing doubt and mistrust" in February 2005, the report stated.

The probe was spearheaded by Springfield attorney Bill Roberts, a Methodist.

The investigation found "some misuse of power and some serious misconduct" by a "very small number of priests," Lucas said.

Lucas remains confident in the virtuous service of the vast majority of the more than 120 priests in the diocese. He acknowledged the "painful truth" of revelations and hopes the investigation will restore the confidence of parishioners.

"I'm deeply sorry for the misdeeds of any priest whom I have placed in or allowed to remain in a position of trust in this diocese," Lucas said.

The report stated that former Bishop Daniel Ryan engaged in sexual misconduct with adults and used his authority to conceal his actions.

"Although denied by Bishop Ryan, this behavior did occur and caused scandal in the church by leading others to do evil," the report stated. "It resulted in feelings of hurt and anger, as well as thoughts of doubt and mistrust, both in the church as an institution and in its leaders."

The report documents anecdotal evidence of Roman Catholics abandoning the faith because of Ryan's actions.

"The investigation found a culture of secrecy fostered under Bishop Ryan's leadership which discouraged faithful priests from coming forward with information about misconduct," the report added.

Ryan no longer participates in public ministry and does not live in the diocese, the report stated.

"We saw a culture that had grown very permissive, very lax, a culture lacking discipline, a culture in which at some point the people became distrusting and wary of bringing things to the head of their church in this diocese because they believe that it wouldn't be handled appropriately," Roberts said.

Some believe Lucas rewarded priests who protected Ryan by honoring them with the designation "monsignor," the report noted. The probe found no evidence Lucas was aware of alleged misconduct by honorees but found Lucas could have researched some priests' characters more carefully.

The panel found false and without merit the allegations by area resident Thomas Munoz, who claimed to have engaged in sex acts with Lucas, five priests and three seminarians. Munoz failed a polygraph test and has a history of criminal and deceptive behavior, the report stated.
IT'S NOT EASY being an archbishop. But it's got to be easier than being bishop of Springfield, Ill.

At least once the Star Wars jokes get old.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Looking for bailouts for God, Inc.

Go to Mass on Sunday, and you're likely to hear how contributions are falling short "x" thousand dollars every week. Please step it up.

Yes, we know some of you have lost your jobs. Yes, we know people are hurting. Yes, we know there's a recession afoot, maybe a depression.

But. . . .


But, we've turned the Catholic Church into a corporation? But, we don't give clothes to the naked or food to the hungry, but instead create chanceries, which have offices, which hire staff, who run programs . . . which help the needy?

But, half of what you put in the plate -- plus a crapload of parents' money in the form of tuition -- go to fund a Catholic-school system no better (at least in Omaha) than public schools and absolutely as likely to turn out hedonistic little pagans?

But, you're paying dearly to build more, and more luxurious, facilities in which comfortable suburban Catholics hear a lukewarm version of the gospel to the lounge-lizard beat of liturgical composers at whom, I'm sure, Simon Cowell would love to have a go?

OH . . . AND THEN there is

WHICH MAKES YOU wonder about this, from Pravda, ummmm . . . The Catholic Voice:
Lee Karrer, finance director for the Archdiocese of Omaha, says only time will tell what kind of an impact the economy will have on the archdiocese.

"It's probably a little too early," he said. "The archbishop, however, has directed that we bring our expenses of operating the Central Administrative Offices into line with anticipated slowdown of incoming revenue."

Karrer said the finance office is in the process of finishing the budget planning on reducing the budget for 2008-2009, as well as the fiscal year of 2009-2010. The reality is that anything and everything is being discussed in terms of reducing the budget, including salary increases, benefit levels and staffing.

"Now we are just at the beginning of the process for Fiscal Year 2009-2010. We haven't even met with the finance council yet. So it's a little early to be able to say exactly what the end results will be," he said. "I can say we've reduced this year's fiscal budget by six figures and will do at least that if not more in 2009-2010."

The finance office's budget affects the chancery offices at 100 N. 62nd St. in Omaha and the archdiocesan offices located at the Sheehan Center campus near 60th and Northwest Radial Highway, Karrer said.

Father Joseph Taphorn, chancellor of the archdiocese, said the priests of the archdiocese have had their salaries frozen for this year, and all archdiocesan office directors were asked to trim about 10 percent from their budgets.

"How can we do that without sacrificing the essential program ministries?" he said. "Well, maybe we can forsake some of the luxuries, some of the travel or conferences that are nice things to do, but if we really don't need to do it, then let's not do it this year and put some of those things on hold.

"Everyone has to trim a little bit and tighten the belt, but I think for the most part we're going to preserve essential services and those essential programs, but everyone has to be a little lean."

"EVERYONE HAS to trim a little bit and tighten the belt," or, if you're in the pews, fork over what's left in your wallet. Yes, indeed.

Well, except for Archbishop Elden Curtiss, who's going to be doing just fine in his retirement years -- sitting pretty, all by himself, in his $389,000 house. Paid for by the good Catholics of the archdiocese.

Meanwhile, somebody sitting somewhere in the chancery, in some office of some archdiocesan bureaucracy, is wondering where all the Catholic young people went. And why those who still bother with God at all are more than likely to end up in some church just like little Waterfront Community Church in Schaumburg, Ill.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The tragedy of Elden Francis Curtiss

The great tragedy of Elden Francis Curtiss, Catholic archbishop of Omaha, Neb., is that he could write
this column unironically:
There seems to be a growing number of people in our society who place a high value on spirituality, but a low value on religion, especially organized religion. It is like saying that they place a high value on democracy, but disparage democratic institutions. But how do we maintain democracy without any structures that make it possible? How do we keep a religious spirit alive in our country without any structures to support it?

Recently, I was reading some comments by Flannery O'Connor, the Catholic novelist who died in 1963 during the Second Vatican Council. In her collected letters, edited after her death under the title "The Habit of Being," Flannery writes about her experience as a Catholic with her church. She valued the church highly but was quite aware of the short-comings of some of her members. She observed that sometimes "you have to suffer as much from the church as for it. The only thing that makes the church endurable is that somehow it is the body of Christ, and on this we are fed."

Flannery O'Connor understood that the operation of the church is set-up for the sake of sinners, which creates all kinds of problems for those who are self-righteous. We do not easily accept the notion that God is as patient with the entire church as he is with each lost sheep. Some people expect the church, especially her leaders, to be perfect. The reality is that the church is holy only because Jesus stands at the center of her life. But all the members who make up the church are imperfect and sinful. This causes some people to be critical of the Catholic Church.


Flannery did not hesitate to point out the faults she found with the church: 45 years ago she complained about the smugness she found in some clergy and laity - "do not take credit for possessing the true religion if you do not live that truth; and do not be glib in answering honest questions - a sense of mystery should give Catholic apologists a sense of humility rather than pride."

She pointed out the lack of depth in some Catholics who want to keep things nice, shallow, cute and safe - "but we are challenged at all times by the cross." And there is that perennial self-righteous on the part of some that disdains human weakness and questions any in-depth discussions about the doctrines of our faith - "the church for some people is not the body of Christ" Flannery wrote, "but a poor man's insurance policy." People need to wrestle with the church in order to refine their faith and their commitment to the Gospel message.

In addressing the need to develop a mature faith based on study and prayer, Flannery wrote that "conviction without experience makes for harshness." But experience not grounded in solid faith tends to go off on tangents. She was convinced that Christians have to struggle with their own demons in order to show compassion to other people who are struggling with their demons. The only thing worse than Christians who will not, under any circumstances, challenge bad behavior in others, are Christians who see evil in everyone else but not in themselves.

Flannery O'Connor had a remarkable insight into modern, sanitized, "empty" religion that was beginning to make inroads into society in the 1960s. This is what she wrote: "One of the effects of modern liberal Christianity is to turn, gradually, religion into poetry and therapy, to make truth vaguer and vaguer and more and more relative, to banish intellectual distinctions, to depend on feeling instead of thought, and gradually to come to believe that God has no power, that he cannot communicate with us, cannot reveal himself to us, indeed has not done so, and that religion is our own sweet invention."

I think the insights of Flannery O'Connor, writing half a century ago, were remarkably accurate. She lived and died a committed Catholic who knew that, despite the failures of her members, the Catholic Church was able to preserve the Gospel and her sacred tradition through every century. She knew that the living Christ revealed himself in the Scriptures and in the sacraments. She knew that despite its sordid history at times, and the scandal caused by some of her leaders, the church was the gift of Jesus to us - and that we should always rejoice in her continuity throughout the ages, and in the Lord's promises that the church would last to the end of time.


It is all right to find fault with the human church, her leaders and members, when there is need for honesty and correction. Our criticism has legitimacy when we love the church and recognize that it is the presence of Jesus in our midst that is at the heart of the church's life. We need to defend the church against her detractors who want to undermine and weaken her with their own agenda.

Spirituality without religion is vague and tenuous. Religion without a church to guide it produces self-fulfilling prophecies and division. A church without continuity from Christ and the apostles lacks cohesiveness and authority. This is the reason that we are Catholics.

We should thank God everyday for the gift of the church that manages to keep Jesus at the very center of her life despite the foibles of her members. The church is weak only when we are weak. It is up to us to help keep her strong by focusing on the Lord who is always present in her midst. He is the reason for the holiness of the church despite the sinfulness of her members.
A GREAT COLUMN. I wonder whether His Excellency is aware he was making a fine argument -- with the help of Flannery O'Connor -- for sticking with a flawed institution when jackasses like himself are the ones making you want to run screaming into that dark night of the soul.

A few years ago, I was almost out the door myself because of people who were obsessed with the externals of the faith but less so with living that faith when doing so would make life a lot more untidy. Like what would happen if you called the cops on a kiddie-porn obsessed priest.

For more than a year -- daily -- I professionally inhabited a world where the most pious of Catholics covered for, sucked up to and rationalized a chancery that allowed such a priest to continue to work with kids. That is, until the cops finally arrested Father.

These people did not think something was wrong with Curtiss for valuing the "company" over Catholic children. But they did think something was quite wrong with the "secular, anti-Catholic media" for pointing out the problem.

Let me tell you, that does mess with your faith. When you are looked upon as a Bad Catholic for choosing right over wrong, and your bishop is The Embodiment of Wrong, you begin to furiously reevaluate a lot of stuff.

Ultimately, I chose to remain Catholic on quite O'Connoresque grounds. Basically, just because I worked with a bunch of hyperpious Catholics and my "shepherd" was a jackass playing chicken with an obstruction-of-justice indictment, it didn't mean the Catholic faith was a big lie.

It just meant I worked with a bunch of hyperpious Catholics and my archbishop was a jackass.

An amazingly non-introspective jackass who can write an objectively fine column that -- in the context of Curtiss' dysfunctional little see on the prairie -- is just another Holy S*** Moment in the collective life of his Bad Catholic flock.

Oh, and since the archbishop says it's OK to criticize the Church, now . . . he needs to sell that $389,000 retirement flop the archdiocese bought for him and use the proceeds to help the poor. It's a scandal and an outrage.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Where would Jesus live?

Let's play Who's the Shepherd? the new game show from Revolution 21's Blog for the People!

This is the new, exciting program where two contestants go head-to-head to see who can best make sense of Jesus' command to "feed my sheep."

The winner of our contest gets a free, all-expenses-paid trip to Paradise upon reaching his expiration date. And our loser on Who's the Shepherd? gets the opportunity to rely heavily upon the mercy of God.

Let's meet our two contestants.

This Catholic prelate of Omaha gained notoriety in early 2002 for protecting a priest with a child-porn Jones and berating the kindergarten teacher who ratted Father out to the cops. Expecting an "Imitation of Christ" award for his clericalist diligence, Archbishop Elden Francis Curtiss instead
nearly got himself charged with witness tampering by a Nebraska district attorney.

Meanwhile, in a civil suit against the archdiocese that spring,
Curtiss admitted to inadequate supervision of a priest convicted on child-pornography and sexual-abuse counts.

The next year, the archbishop followed that admittedly hard-to-follow act by picking a fight with the Boys Town board over hiring a new director, then quitting the board in a snit and making various threats against the institution of Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney film lore.

For such outstanding service to the Catholic faithful of northeast Nebraska, his excellency -- once the pope accepts his resignation (which is required upon turning 75) and gets around to picking a replacement -- will spend his retirement in a 3,100-square-foot house, replete with four bedrooms, three baths, a whirlpool, a fireplace and granite countertops.

A lot of sumptuous room for an old gent to ramble about in during his waning years.
Purchase price: $389,000.

Now let's meet our second contestant on Who's the Shepherd?, right here on Revolution 21.

to the east of our Omaha prelate, Steven A. Brigham in 2003 was starting
a ministry to the homeless of Ocean County, N.J. A couple of years after that, the laborer quit his $65,000-a-year job with an electrical-contracting firm so he could run his ministry full time.

For no pay.

Last winter, The New York Times
highlighted Minister Steve's effort to keep homeless encampments stocked with propane heat, nutritious food and brotherly love:

In the back of the bus, the minister carried bulging gray metal cans filled with gallons of relief. For the homeless who have settled here, by mucky streams or in thickets of scrub pine, in sight of cellphone towers and gas stations but on the edges of survival, his gift of propane is all that prevents them from falling off.

The propane is little salve for most of their problems, like the loneliness and the boredom, the mental disorders and the substance abuse. Yet when the minister, Steven A. Brigham, called out, “Are you home?” a tent flap quickly unzipped to reveal a man with a teardrop tattoo next to one eye.

“I need propane,” said the man, Brett Bartholomew, after they caught up for a minute. “I’m down to my last two tanks. I’m using them now.”

It is a ritual Mr. Brigham performs several times a week — more when the temperature drops — in a kind of propane ministry he has built since 2003 that now serves 44 homeless men and women scattered in nine encampments in the Ocean County communities of Lakewood and two neighboring towns on the Jersey Shore.

Advocates for the homeless say there is only one men’s shelter with a few beds in Ocean County, which has a population of about 550,000, plus other places for children and victims of domestic violence. The county government also rents rooms in motels for hundreds of homeless people. A census in 2005 found 556 local homeless, 41 of them who have been unable to find any emergency housing; advocates say that number has grown, though a count conducted in January has not yet been released.

They live outside without plumbing or electricity, save a generator or two. So they count on Minister Steve, as Mr. Brigham calls himself, for propane to power their heaters and stoves — which he also supplied — to fill the tents he gave them with enough warmth to sleep. To survive.

The propane, in 20-pound metal jugs Mr. Brigham fills at gas stations, costs about $2,000 a month; some of the propane is provided by a pantry, and the rest is subsidized by donations. He runs through about 40 tanks a week in winter.

In the bracing cold that draped the Northeast last week, Minister Steve went about his work urgently, his already long days crammed with crucial tasks.

Old mattresses waited to be picked up at a local church, and there were boxes of food to collect from various pantries. Someone staying in a motel needed a razor. In one tent city, a dozen Mexican day laborers, unable to find work in the cold weather, needed more sugar.

In another, Nachelle Walker and Nathaniel Joyner asked for more propane and praised the packaged chili Mr. Brigham had delivered. “You can turn the heat down and eat chili,” Ms. Walker said. “It sticks to your insides.”

Everybody needed propane. Everybody always needs propane.

“I can empathize with these people living out there in the woods the whole night long,” said Mr. Brigham, 46, who has done a lot of camping and describes himself as a “free spirit” untethered from traditional society.

WHERE DOES Minister Steve live? He lives in his bus, the old blue one with "God Is Love" painted above the windshield.

If you'd like to see Steve Brigham's spacious and luxurious quarters,
there's this video report on the NBC Nightly News web page.

So, before we pick our winner, let's put a few simple questions to our celebrity panel. Here we go:

* Who is the better imitation of Christ . . . Elden Francis Curtiss and the Archdiocese of Omaha or "Minister Steve" Brigham in Lakewood, N.J.?

* What would Jesus do? Protect perverted priests and bully teachers who don't? Or would he deliver blankets, food and propane to "the least of these" on the margins of society?

* Where would Jesus live? All by Himself in a big, fancy house in a nice neighborhood? Or would Christ live in the back of the bus He used in tending to His flock?

* What would Jesus do with $389,000? Buy a house or buy propane for the poor?

Finally, just one more question for our panel of judges:
Do you reckon Omaha and northeast Nebraska might be a little better off if it had a Catholic archdiocese run by a "Minister Steve" instead of an Archbishop Curtiss?

Now let's play our game! Good luck to both of our contestants.

Stay tuned, folks. We'll be back with the winner of Who's the Shepherd? after these important messages.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Fleece my sheep to pimp my house

Every year, we Catholics get the "stewardship homily" at Mass, coinciding with the archdiocesan annual campaign.

And just last Sunday, our parish got the soft sell from a freshly scrubbed seminarian seeking the faithful's help in defraying the high cost of priestly education.

ONE FACT in modern Church life is inescapable: Shepherds gotta have cash to tend to those sheep. In fact, that's just the analogy the Omaha archdiocese used last year for its annual campaign -- "Feed My Sheep."

On the spring day Mrs. Favog and I were received into the Catholic Church back in 1990, the priest, a World War II combat vet, was much more direct -- in that inimitable way old military men have.

"There is no free lunch at Christ the King," he told the congregation. We cringed as we looked at all our very Protestant friends and relatives in the pews, for we had the bad luck of getting confirmed not at Easter Vigil, but instead on the May day devoted to getting congregants to cough up the cash.

I couldn't help but think of what my old man -- a bitter and cynical soul who had not much use for Catholics or the churched in general -- had to say when I told him we were becoming Catholic.

"All they want is your money," is what I heard over the telephone line from 1,100 miles and a couple of planets away. I think my response, in my convert's naivete, went something like "Well, they're welcome to it, then."

THING IS, my father had this knack for saying the most flat-out lunatic things you could imagine -- things that caused his son and daughter-in-law to do regular spit takes -- only to have them validated via some bizarre occurrence. Or when Father, at your confirmation, says "There is no free lunch at Christ the King."

Since, the tact level has increased tremendously. We generally get the soft sell, and lots and lots of talk about "stewardship."

Which I think is fine, actually. We do need to support the work of the Church. We need to tend to the broken and the broken-hearted. We need to feed the hungry and heal the sick and educate the clergy and provide for priests and nuns in their old age.

And I wish the Catholic Church -- or at least the Church in northeastern Nebraska -- would actually exercise a little good stewardship of its own and direct every possible penny toward doing exactly that.

INSTEAD, last Sunday, as we were getting that seminarian sob story designed to get every last mite out of every last widow, all those proverbial widows had to do was shuffle out of church, get into their sensible-but-aging Dodge automobiles and slowly drive the couple of miles or so through the frozen Omaha cityscape to 1024 Sunset Trail to see what "stewardship" means to the chancery bureaucrats in charge of spending what they faithfully drop into the collection plate.

There, about eight blocks from the offices where Archbishop Elden Francis Curtiss oversees his flock, sits a vacant house. A newly-expanded, remodeled and tricked-out $389,000 house fit for a king . . . or a soon-to-be-retired prince of the Church who
approaches his shepherding job rather like Britney Spears approaches motherhood.

Such a bore . . . rather beneath someone as excellent as he.

The Omaha World-Herald has done some further digging about Curtiss' swell future old-bachelor pad and found
it's likely worth every widow's mite the chancery paid:

A house that the Omaha Catholic Archdiocese recently bought as Archbishop Elden Curtiss' future retirement home had undergone a total renovation and a significant expansion, said the prior owner and an archdiocesan official who was involved in the purchase.

Realtor Jeff Rensch and the Rev. Gregory Baxter said in separate interviews that the house, at 1024 Sunset Trail in the Dillon's Fairacres neighborhood, was well worth the $389,000 that the archdiocese paid for it in December.

Among other reasons, they said, an addition and renovation project before the sale expanded the one-story house to 3,100 finished square feet, including the basement.

Rensch's wife, Mari, purchased the house for $155,500 in September 2006. The sale to the archdiocese has sparked controversy since a World-Herald article last week. Many people have asked whether the house was worth the price.

Jeff Rensch, who couldn't be reached for comment before last week's article was published, said this week that the renovation and the neighborhood justified the cost.

"If you have never gone through this type of total renovation, it may sound like (we) made money on this sale," he said, "but with all costs considered, it was break even at best."

The home, Rensch said, was sorely in need of updating when the Rensches purchased it. They intended it to be a home for his elderly mother, Rensch said, but that didn't work out.

They spent more than $200,000 on renovating the house, he said, including building a 230-square- foot addition.

When they started, the house had two bedrooms, one bath and about 1,500 square feet of space on the main level. The basement was partly finished.

By the time the Rensches and their contractor were done, the house had 3,100 square feet of finished space. Of that, about 1,650 square feet is on the main level, and the rest is in the basement.

The house now has four bedrooms and three bathrooms. Rensch said the project included building a 10-by-23-foot main-floor addition, removing many walls and reconfiguring space to make the house more open. They added two basement bedrooms and, to conform to city codes, added windows that could be used to escape a fire.

They replaced the roof, adding two peaks for a better roofline. They replaced all windows and siding. They built a new kitchen with granite countertops. They replaced all wiring and plumbing, added a fireplace and installed a whirlpool bath.

The construction took more than a year.

"We didn't go from terrible to Taj Mahal, but it's basically a new home," said Quintin Bogard, owner of Q's Home Services and co-general contractor on the renovation with Mari Rensch. "It's not extravagant, but it's a beautiful home. You're not going to get a newer home in the middle of town than that one."


He added by e-mail that he and his wife, who are Catholics with five children in Catholic schools, were "surprised and honored that the archbishop and his advisers noticed the home, appreciated Mari's work and decided to have him enjoy his retirement in this particular home."

Baxter said the house was worth the price. The Rev. Joseph Taphorn, chancellor of the Omaha archdiocese, said it will be a good investment for the archdiocese.

The Rensches, widely known in the Omaha real estate business, live within a few blocks of the house, which is near 61st Street and Western Avenue. They belong to St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church, where Baxter is the pastor. Baxter also is an archdiocesan official and was assigned to help find a retirement residence for Curtiss.

AT LEAST WE NOW KNOW archdiocesan officials aren't stupid. They just think we are.

We live in an archdiocese where inner-city Catholic parishes are struggling to keep the doors open and their schools from being shuttered. Likewise, we live in a city that has seen violence and hopelessness spike in poor neighborhoods desperately in need of the hope and mercy of Jesus Christ.

We also live in an archdiocese where even large suburban parishes are down to one priest, have plenty of space in the rectory and sure could use the help of a spry retired archbishop.

But I guess the Archdiocese of Omaha, in its infinite wisdom, finds that the spectacle of an archbishop serving anyone other than himself would be entirely too compatible with the example of an itinerant Savior who never had 3,100 square feet of material comfort to crash in after a hard day casting out demons, curing lepers and getting crucified.

Because Jesus, after all, is for those who can't help themselves.

"All they want is your money."

I so freakin' hate it when my old man, now long in the grave, still gets proven right after saying the most damn-fool things.

Friday, January 04, 2008

The $389,000 question

The Archdiocese of Omaha just wrapped up its 2007 annual appeal, "Feed My Sheep." I don't know how the sheep are making out in the archdiocese this year, but it looks like the shepherd's doing just fine.

ABOVE, you see the house Archbishop Elden Francis Curtiss will shuffle about in during his retired-prelate dotage, whenever the Vatican gets around to accepting his recent required resignation upon turning 75. The archdiocese bought the house in early December, reportedly a case of "just planning ahead," as an archdiocesan official told the Omaha World-Herald.

Make that $389,000 worth of lodging forethought, to be exact.

I realize that purchase price might not raise eyebrows on the West Coast or in the Northeast. But here in Omaha, Neb., $389,000 for a 1,500 square-foot residence in an average, 1950s-vintage neighborhood gets your attention right quick.

PARTICULARLY WHEN the house was assessed in 2006 at $139,100 and sold that autumn for $155,500. Those owners, according to the newspaper, then added to the structure and made other "extensive renovations that included a front porch plus new plumbing, electrical and heating and cooling work."

Which, we are supposed to believe, makes the house worth $230,000 more than the owners, an Omaha real-estate couple, paid for the archbishop's new digs.
Who does that kind of massive flip-renovation when the housing market is headed south?

That is, unless they absolutely, positively know they have a buyer who'll pay big money for a radically upgraded, formerly average house in a squishy real-estate market. That's a lot of questions, and the World-Herald doesn't have many answers . . . yet:

The two-bedroom, ranch-style house is at 1024 Sunset Trail, in the Dillon's Fairacres neighborhood, northwest of Memorial Park. It's near 61st Street and Western Avenue, eight blocks from the archdiocese's headquarters offices at 62nd and Dodge Streets.

The Sunset Trail house was purchased Dec. 4 by the Catholic archbishop of Omaha for $389,000, according to Douglas County records. Thursday, an Able Locksmith employee was working on the house. An archdiocesan security pickup was parked behind the locksmith's van.

The house is planned to be Curtiss' retirement residence, said the Rev. Joseph Taphorn, chancellor of the Omaha archdiocese. He said archdiocesan savings were used to buy the house.


For Curtiss, the chancellor said, archdiocese officials "were looking around for some time for something near the chancery."

The Sunset Trail house fits the archbishop's needs for a retirement residence and also is an investment for the future after he no longer needs it, Taphorn said.

The one-story house, built in 1954, has two bedrooms and one bathroom, according to Douglas County Assessor's Office records. Those records say the house has 1,562 square feet of space, but it's unclear whether that includes an addition added by the previous owners, Mari and Jeff Rensch.
ASSUMING THAT the house is, indeed, worth what the archdiocese paid for it -- and that it happens to be a decent "investment" when the nation's housing bubble has popped spectacularly -- we still are faced with a large and pertinent question here. To wit: "What the HELL?"

Exactly how much house does an old bachelor need? Particularly an old bachelor whose job it is to be a shepherd, worrying more about his flock than how sumptuous his new digs might be.

Particularly a man entrusted by God to care for the poor, educate the young in the faith and provide the sacraments to all the faithful in his archdiocese. And particularly during a time when the archdiocese for which he is responsible -- for a while longer, at least -- is short of priests, is shuttering parishes and is seeing its social services stretched by rising numbers of the homeless, the hungry and the addicted.

Would it be too much to expect that the soon-to-be-retired archbishop might wish to find a modest house near a shorthanded parish and spend his remaining years simply serving the people of God and reveling in the simple joy of such humble communion?

I guess it would.

IN THIS CITY, there are plenty of nice digs -- nice digs in nice neighborhoods . . . even nice condos downtown -- to be had for lots less than the $389,000 the archdiocese is spending on Curtiss' future residence. Excuse me, make that $389,000 of other people's hard-earned money the archdiocese is spending on Curtiss' future old-bachelor pad.

I may be cast into the fiery furnace for saying so, but I don't see how turning "Feed My Sheep" into "Pimp My House" has a damned thing to do with good stewardship of the archbishop's flock's tithed treasure.

Nothing at all.

But that wouldn't be the first time the chancery has flipped the fickle finger of fate at the faithful, now, would it?