Catholic Church buys $2.4M Seattle home as funds peak, parishes shut

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Parishioners are now not welcome for Mass at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, nevertheless it stays a form of still-life. Solely a single bulb glows over the heavy, unlocked doorways. Inside, prayer votives are chilly and burned low. Grey mild casts rows of pews in eerie shadow.

St. Mary’s merged in July with St. Therese, 2 miles away, one in all a dozen parishes the Archdiocese of Seattle closed or consolidated to save cash and reduce expensive repairs to outdated buildings.

But the archdiocese emerged from the pandemic with its highest monetary good points within the final 5 years, regardless of COVID-19, declining Mass attendance, a small dip in parishioner giving and the continued pressure of clergy abuse payouts.

Now the archdiocese’s funds have come underneath renewed scrutiny with the acquisition of a house for Seattle’s Catholic management, prompting recent criticism of the church’s transparency and cash administration. 

The archdiocese final month quietly acquired the $2.4 million property within the stately Mount Baker neighborhood. The five-bedroom, 3,460-square-foot gray-shingled dwelling with a bright-blue door overlooks Lake Washington.

The deed confirmed no specific connection to the archdiocese. It was bought by AB Seattle Property LLC, and the Mount Baker house is its solely transaction. 

The corporate is registered underneath the title of a Seattle lawyer, William Crowley, who’s the legal professional for the Archdiocese of Seattle. 

However Crowley didn’t purchase the property for himself. As an alternative, it turned the brand new dwelling for Seattle Archbishop Paul Etienne, who moved in after Thanksgiving. 

The acquisition was first made public in November by Heal Our Church, a gaggle of Washington Catholics advocating for church reform, significantly associated to clergy sexual abuse and elevated transparency from the archdiocese. Six days later, the archdiocese confirmed the acquisition in Northwest Catholic journal, christening the property Bethany Home. 

The house’s kitchen has state-of-the-art home equipment and quartz counter tops, and in response to an inventory on Redfin, the home has hardwood flooring, stained glass and a claw-foot tub. 

Whereas Seattle is understood for hovering dwelling costs, as of October, the median worth for a single-family dwelling in Seattle was $903,000, and $1.3 million within the Mount Baker neighborhood.

The archdiocese advised The Seattle Occasions the acquisition was prudent and aligned with its long-term objectives for the church to extend its monetary stability. The neighborhood is a roughly 15-minute drive from St. James Cathedral and Etienne’s workplace. The archdiocese stated utilizing an LLC protected the archbishop’s privateness and isn’t an unusual follow of the church. 

“He’s an individual identical to the remainder of us who needs to have a spot to go dwelling and be peaceable,” stated Helen McClenahan, a spokesperson for the archdiocese. Etienne declined an interview. 

Members of Heal Our Church say the acquisition seems callous when Catholics are nonetheless grappling with the lack of beloved communities like St. Mary’s and the now-shuttered Mount Baker church Our Woman of Mount Virgin — in addition to when many Catholics in Washington battle to afford housing on the whole.

The archbishop “holds the place of ethical authority and there’s a lot of standing and energy that goes with that place,” stated Colleen Kinerk, a member of Heal Our Church. “If Jesus made the choice, they wouldn’t be buying a waterfront dwelling.” 

“A pastor, not a prince”

When Etienne was appointed in September 2019, he despatched an inside letter saying he can be the primary archbishop in many years to not reside within the historic Connolly Home, the place his predecessors lived because the early 1900s, and deliberate to promote it. The First Hill property has been assessed at $8.8 million. 

“I want to reside a extra simplified life,” he stated within the letter. “I believe the times of bishops dwelling in a way that’s lots nicer than the vast majority of their individuals reside, these days are gone, and they need to be,” he went on to say in an interview with Northwest Catholic journal, which is the official publication for the Archdiocese of Seattle. 

“I’m a pastor, not a prince,” he stated, “and I need to reside in a way that’s extra reflective of how my individuals reside.”

He moved to the rectory at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Beacon Hill, whose second-floor residence was transformed in 2020 for $160,000, in response to county permits. 

In March 2022, the archdiocese introduced it deliberate to promote Connolly Home and a number of other different properties to Westbank, a Vancouver, B.C.-based actual property developer. The archdiocese stated Connolly Home alone can be offered for $13.5 million, primarily based on market worth — $5 million above its appraised worth — with an settlement to protect the historic worth of the house. The deal included three different First Hill properties, which collectively have been appraised at over $25 million, in response to King County property assessments. 9 months later, the gross sales usually are not but ultimate. 

At 9,450 sq. ft, “Connolly Home was simply actually actually too huge for the wants of this archbishop, which is why he needed to downsize,” stated McClenahan, the archdiocese spokesperson.

She stated the Mount Baker home is inexpensive with decrease upkeep prices however does have sufficient area to accommodate a visiting bishop and will attraction to future archbishops.

It’s “one thing that would final,” she stated.

“He controls all info”

In the event that they undergo, the true property offers may whole near $40 million. However they aren’t but mirrored within the archdiocese monetary paperwork. 

The Archdiocese of Seattle is among the many bigger dioceses within the nation, with over 600,000 parishioners in 168 parishes and missions in Western Washington. Within the 2021 fiscal yr, it had $16.5 million out there in money and investments after accounting for $45.7 million in debt, in response to monetary reviews. Parishioner collections at Mass topped out at $93 million — an 89% improve since 1995 — with an extra $154 million in income from Catholic faculties and a $151 million collective nest egg for interchurch lending. 

Catholic Group Companies and Catholic Housing Companies additionally introduced in and distributed $290 million within the final fiscal yr, the vast majority of it income from authorities charges and contracts. 

Whereas the church’s debt has additionally elevated lately, it compensated in 2021 with sturdy returns on investments, donations and an inflow of not less than $3.7 million in federal COVID reduction loans.

McClenahan stated bettering the church’s monetary stability has been deliberate, “in order that we don’t head into bankruptcies like different dioceses in america.”

The expansion is in step with web belongings held by america Convention of Catholic Bishops, the group of nationwide church management that oversees and organizes Catholicism within the U.S. and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Since 2015, the nationwide group has seen a 56 p.c improve in whole belongings from $162 million to $254 million for fiscal yr 2021, not together with restrictions positioned by donors.

The Seattle Archdiocese’s funds are a distinction to these of a few of its friends within the period of reckoning with clergy abuse. Dioceses and spiritual orders have sought chapter safety within the Northwest and nationwide on account of the abuse disaster.

Heal Our Church has pushed for the Seattle Archdiocese to be extra clear and make its data associated to clergy abuse public. 

With out full transparency, they are saying Catholics can’t know the extent of hurt dedicated by abusive monks or nuns and hid by church management. These data belong to the survivors, not the church, say advocates for Heal Our Church and SNAP, the Survivors Community of these Abused by Monks.

The group says its requests for the church to make these data public have been stonewalled by Archbishop Etienne. McClenahan, the archdiocese spokesperson, stated releasing data can be a violation of parishioners’ privateness and so they haven’t any plans to take action. 

However to Heal Our Church, the Mount Baker buy signifies the church’s entrenched follow to function in secrecy. 

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Tim Regulation, a neighborhood lawyer and nationwide advocate on clergy reform, stated buying the home by means of an LLC was a breach of belief. 

“We’re coping with [Etienne] on points of kid safety and he’s attempting to guarantee us he has all the pieces underneath management, {that a} new web page has been turned, and this is a sign that nothing has modified,” Regulation stated. 

Seattle has paid out $118.8 million in clergy abuse settlements — representing 465 claims — because the Nineteen Eighties, with $688,000 spent in counseling since 2006, the archdiocese stated this month. The archdiocese says a few of this had been paid up to now by means of property gross sales however has predominantly been funded by means of insurance coverage, self-insurance and the church’s basic fund. 

In distinction, Spokane’s smaller diocese encompassing Jap Washington agreed to pay $48 million to 176 claimants as a part of its 2007 chapter proceedings. Nationally, dioceses collectively spent greater than $200 million in settlements simply in 2019, a sum that has been steeply rising yearly, in response to a report from america Convention of Catholic Bishops and companion organizations.

However even among the many most up-to-date clergy abuse settlements in Seattle, which totaled $2.3 million, the archdiocese declined to launch the title of the alleged abuser from a case at St. Louise Parish, saying it “couldn’t make a definitive identification.”

The Seattle Archdiocese has publicly launched 81 names as of 2021 and says it’s dedicated to persevering with to replace the listing and make credibly accused clergy identified to the general public on its Defend and Heal web site:

Regulation, who was baptized at Holy Rosary Catholic Church 73 years in the past, stated that’s a part of the church’s longstanding issues. 

“He controls all info,” Regulation stated. “Large modifications and reforms want to return. Calling out these items could be perceived as petty, however it is very important get the church in the best route.”

Lingering grief of parish closures

In July, Archbishop Etienne stated, “We merely can’t proceed with the established order,” as greater than a dozen parishes closed or consolidated, which he stated would higher distribute church assets, following consultations with church management and public remark.

Parishioners spoke of grief and displacement. Some stated they felt intentionally ignored as a part of the Latino, Southeast Asian and queer communities dominant within the altering parishes. 

“I deliberate to have my funeral right here,” Emmy Purainer, who had attended Mount Virgin for greater than 60 years, advised The Seattle Occasions in 2021.  

The parish closures are underneath assessment by the Vatican, however money movement is more likely to improve within the coming years regardless. The First Hill actual property deal is anticipated to extend money belongings by tens of tens of millions of {dollars}. 

And if the Mount Virgin church property is offered, which is appraised at $8.7 million, its proceeds will go to the archdiocese. For different parishes, like St. Mary’s, appraised at $1.4 million, any gross sales from that property would keep inside the St. Therese parish it consolidated with, McClenahan stated, including that Mass collections additionally keep inside every parish. For now, she stated, St. Mary’s will generally nonetheless host a funeral.

The archdiocese says funds weren’t the one consideration in closing parishes. Mass attendance fell 15.5% between 1999 and 2018, to about 126,000, although the final inhabitants boomed. Additionally, there are too few Catholic bishops, an issue that’s not anticipated to enhance over time. 

In South Seattle, there have been simply 12 monks for 15 parishes, the archdiocese stated.

However Catholic funds have been underneath a microscope internationally and at different U.S. dioceses. There have been current allegations that high Vatican officers have stolen and mismanaged Catholic funds, embezzlement accusations and proof that 100 million euros have been misplaced by the church in a “shady” worldwide actual property deal, The New York Occasions reported. 

U.S. archbishops have additionally beforehand walked again costly acquisitions following group outcry, together with a $2.2 million dwelling bought by the previous archbishop of Atlanta and a $2.3 million dwelling bought for a San Jose, California, bishop’s retirement. 

A mile and a half separate the archbishop’s new dwelling from the now-defunct Mount Virgin parish. For a century, it served because the neighborhood church for immigrant communities. After it closed in July, parishioners continued to wish in entrance of the church’s locked doorways. Immediately, their languages stay inscribed over the doorway, the phrase signifying a spot of worship etched in Chinese language, Vietnamese and Lao. However the parish is empty and quiet.