How do New Jersey Catholics feel about Newark's much criticized Archbishop John Myers?
Archbishop John Myers is living proof that the old adage "all press is good press" doesn't always hold true. The head of the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey has been the subject of plenty of media coverage, but it never seems to paint him in a positive light.
Most recently, there was the story of his eventual retirement home in plush Hunterdon County, New Jersey getting a $500,000 addition built in anticipation of Myers living there full-time (the house was reportedly already valued at around $800,000). That follows numerous stories about Myers' questionable handling of sexual abuse cases in his diocese, including his failure to follow direct orders from the local prosecutor's office. Myers himself just blames the media for how they cover him, including New Jersey's Star-Ledger, which has provided in-depth journalistic coverage of Myers' leadership woes in Newark over the years.
But what do Catholics in the archdiocese, the people that Myers is entrusted to lead, actually think about him? I got some indication this week in the form of an unmarked letter that arrived in my mailbox. Addressed to Pope Francis (for some reason, it is rather common for letters addressed to the pope to be sent to U.S. Catholic), the letter is only signed "The people of the church of Newark." There's no telling how many people contributed to the letter, or if it is just one anonymous Catholic's opinion, but it contains some interesting observations. For example:
"Since his installation, our Archbishop, John J. Myers, has been a distant man, more interested in giving orders to his people rather than just speaking to us. He has come to our parishes to say Mass, only to walk straight out the door to his car in full vestments to avoid even greeting any of us. He has told us that he makes no mistakes, and even defends child molesters, instead blaming the victims and their families for their subsequent problems."
The letter also addresses the retirement home controversy, first pointing out that the people of Newark have worked hard to build parishes and schools but have been frustrated by closures blamed on lack of funds. "Over and over we hear the refrain from our leaders, 'there is no money' ... However, there is money for an episcopal palace. There is money for our archbishop to own not one, but three Lexus automobiles. There is money for endless episcopal rings, miters, crosiers, and winters in Florida." Ouch.
The letter calls on Pope Francis to intervene, but in a way, he already has--a coadjutor bishop has already been named to assist Myers in running the diocese, and he will take over in just a few years when Myers reaches the retirement age for bishops of 75. But perhaps Myers should listen to the message of Pope Francis when it comes to priests living a simple, humble lifestyle. Or look at the example Francis himself has set with his own living arrangements or choice of car.
Or better yet, maybe Myers needs to stop worrying what the media has to say about him and listen to the concerns of his own people. He still has some time left in his tenure as archbishop, and it isn't too late to start generating a few positive headlines.