Join the Campaign to Restore Simplicity

Voice from the Desert

August 31, 2008

On 8.29.2008, I received the following in an email from Rich Acerra, of Newton, MA. Rich sent it on behalf of Maria Plati, also of Newton, who wrote it.

Thanks, Rich, for forwarding this call to bishops to live lives of simplicity.

Most of all, thanks, Maria, for writing it.

The Campaign to Restore Simplicity

Background: For the past decades, Roman Catholic dioceses across the country have been closing parishes and schools, cutting programs and services and reducing their commitment to local parishes. Some of these reductions have been spurred by lawsuits and settlements for clergy sexual abuse crimes. Because the church’s financial holdings and finances remain largely a mystery to parishioners, we are left wondering whether these reductions were necessary and how much more Catholics will be asked to contribute to maintain the status quo. At the same time that parishioners receive fewer services, the church’s hierarchy has imposed no such sacrificial requirements on its own - the bishops. Lavish residences, wine cellars, personal cooks, maids and drivers are still the norm for many bishops and cardinals. How can an institution that is financed through voluntary contributions indulge its hierarchy as it asks those donors to dig deeper into their pockets to fund the comfortable (even opulent) lifestyles of its leaders?

RATIONALE: Canon 387 of the Code of Canon Law mandates that bishops practice “simplicity of life.” The Vatican’s Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops says each bishop should “be poor and appear to be poor.” On a trip to the United States, Pope John Paul II told U.S. bishops they should adopt a lifestyle that “imitates the poverty of Christ” so the Church can better identify with the struggles and suffering of the poor. Unfortunately, with record gas prices, home foreclosures and unemployment on the rise, we see no evidence that bishops identify with the struggles facing the members of their flocks.

Earlier this year, the Vatican issued its “New Mortal Sin” list that includes the act of causing social injustice. Living a luxury lifestyle as those around you struggle, starve and suffer constitutes commission of this sin.


The Roman Catholic Church with its 2,000 year old history is one of the most rigid and insulated institutions left on the planet. Its intransigence in the face of new social structures, values and mores often means that it is incapable of engaging in the transformation necessary to become relevant and responsible to its followers. The Campaign to Restore Simplicity will hold a mirror up to the Church, reminding the hierarchy about the danger of wealth and demanding that they lead a lifestyle more in keeping with the life of Jesus.


We have compiled a gallery of photos of bishops’ residences from across the country. The photos will show that bishops reside in comfortable if not luxurious mansions surrounded by manicured grounds and serviced by numbers of staff of the type engaged by the wealthiest strata of society. Notably, we commend Cardinal Sean O’Malley of the Archdiocese of Boston who upon replacing Bernard Cardinal Law immediately sold the opulent Chancery and private residence and moved into modest quarters behind the Cathedral in the inner city. But, he is the exception.

As our country faces deep crises in energy, heath care and employment security, we wonder how these men who took a vow to serve Jesus can continue to demand the comforts provided by the sweat of the brow of those they are obligated to serve. Symbolism is important and there can be no more important symbolic event than throwing off the trappings of wealth to rededicate yourself to a life of humility, service and sacrifice. It is only when you live a life of simplicity and modesty that you can truly share the love of God.

The Campaign for Simplicity calls upon the U.S. bishops to renounce their privileged lifestyles and to adopt lives that more closely approximate Christ’s commitment to the poor. In any given community, the sale of large residences could fund low income housing for needy families in its place. The money saved on wine and landscaping services could fund children’s child care or services for the elderly and infirm. These transfers could transform lives, provide families with hope and fulfill the mission of the Gospel.

Will the bishops accept this challenge or will they choose to continue to live a life of comfort and isolation from the poverty and suffering surrounding them?

Join the Campaign for Simplicity. We’ll tell you how you can ask the question of your bishop and how you can make a difference in changing a system that bestows upon these men a level of materialism incompatible with their life of service and incompatible with the true message of Christ.


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