There was a lot of unwelcome attention in the international press over the Catholic Bishop of Limburg in Germany and his lavish new residence. Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van-Elst spent approximately $41 million on renovations of his official residence. The Vatican made a special point of suspending the bishop over his extravagance.
And yet as lavish as that is, it seems modest compared to the extravagances of American evangelical mega-preachers.
Paul Crouch, the founder of the Trinity Broadcasting Network and probably the most financially successful of all the recent Prosperity Gospel mega-preachers, died yesterday. Take a look at what he leaves behind.
This is one of Paul Crouch's 13 mansions. They also had a $100,000 mobile home just for the family dog.
Trinity Broadcasting Network's HQ in Costa Mesa, CA.
All of this is financed by the contributions of followers, book sales, and advertising sales. It is all tax free.
What's more, the Crouches and TBN were such a long running freak show.
TBN's broadcasting house in Irving, TX, modeled after the White House. Supposedly Crouch had an office here that was a duplicate of the Oval Office.
And here are the Crouches in all their lavish and freakish splendor. Paul Crouch, like so many professional homophobes, was apparently a closet sister taking advantage of young attractive male employees of TBN. Crouch had to settle lawsuits from former sex partners of himself and his son, Paul Crouch Jr. out of court.
And yet I long for the days when ecclesiastical corruption had style.
Here is the Residence that the Prince-Bishop of Würzburg in Germany had built for himself out of the tax and tithe money of his subjects in 1720 and completed in 1744.
The Prince-Bishop hired the pre-eminent architect of the day, Balthazar Neumann to design the palace.
The Kaisersaal, the main public room, with frescoes by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, brought all the way from Venice to paint in the palace.
Tiepolo's ceiling painting in the Kaisersaal.
Tiepolo's frescoes over the Grand Staircase
So much for "foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."
This kind of corruption and extravagance does real harm beyond crooked clergy exploiting the credulous. It makes life impossible for those who really are trying to go out there and make the world a little less crapulent. It is these kinds of extravagances that fuel popular movements to make religious institutions pay property taxes, an idea that I support in principle. However, our nearly 200 year old parish would shut down if we had to pay Manhattan property taxes on our buildings and property in Greenwich Village; among the most valuable real estate in the world. The still large population of homeless kids in the neighborhood would have to go without a hot meal and shelter that our parish provides. Most churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples on Manhattan and a lot of hospitals, clinics, and shelters (including Mount Sinai and Presbyterian) that are religiously affiliated would have to shut down. We may not like them, but religious institutions still do the largest share of caring for the down and out and the destitute. Paying taxes on Manhattan property that some institutions have held since the days of William and Mary would really make the island an exclusive preserve of the very rich.
An excellent article on the Crouches and their empire complete with its scandals and family feuds by Sarah Posner.