"Yes, I understand what people are saying," Jim Goodness, the director of communications for the Newark Archdiocese, told TPM by phone on Thursday.
But Goodness refused to say if he thought a planned $500,000 expansion to a retirement home for Newark Archbishop John J. Myers contradicts the message of Pope Francis, who lives in a modest residence and has urged priests to steer clear of luxurious lifestyles.
"I'm not going to answer that question," Goodness said. "I'm not taking any side on that at all."
The renovations to the home, which Myers currently uses as a weekend residence, have come under a bit of scrutiny. The 3,000-square-foot expansion will include an indoor exercise pool, three fireplaces and an elevator to be enjoyed by Myers in his future retirement.
Goodness went to great pains to make clear that much of the funding for the addition will come from the sale of other properties owned by the archdiocese. Any leftover money from the sale of those properties "will be returned to the diocese for use in ministry," he said.
The other source of funding will be donations given specifically to subsidize the home.
"That's restricted money," Goodness said. "That's money that's for that purpose and you have to use it for the purpose for which it was donated."
He also pushed back on a tough column in the New York Times that criticized the archdiocese for financing the expansion two years after it closed a school due to a lack of funding.
Such criticism was unfair, Goodness argued, because school closures are due to a lack of enrollment. He pointed to a soon-to-be-closed Catholic school in Clark, N.J. that has only 100 students between kindergarten and eighth grade but costs its parish "$350,000 or so" each year.
"Over a period of time, a very short period of time, that is the type of thing that can bankrupt a parish," Goodness said. "That's why I find it's an unfair comparison."
Goodness also said it's unfair to suggest that the archdiocese isn't charitable.
“We spend millions of dollars every year directly and through parishes in support of Catholic charities operations here in the archdiocese," he said.