When newly arrived here in 2019, Seattle Archbishop Paul D. Etienne told his flock, “I am a pastor, not a prince,” and announced that he would not live in Connolly House, the ornate First Hill mansion that had served since 1920 as the bishop’s residence.
“Bishops face a challenge of reclaiming our credibility,” he said. “We’re in a different age today, and I want people to know that I’m willing to examine everything – including the home that I live in that the people of God provide me – in order to renew the church.”
Three years later, it was quietly announced on the Northwest Catholic website that the Archdiocese of Seattle has spent $2.4 million to purchase a handsome home on Cascadia Ave. S., in Mt. Baker, with a view over Lake Washington to the Cascades, as a residence for Archbishop Etienne and guests of the diocese. The archbishop has been living in the rectory of St. Peters Catholic Church on Beacon Hill.
The 3,400-square-foot home was purchased with money from the $13.5 million sale of Connolly House to Westbank, a Vancouver, British Columbia developer. The new home is within the boundary of St. Mary’s parish, recently closed by the archdiocese and merged with St. Therese parish in Madrona. Northwest Catholic did not mention costs of remodeling the home.
Etienne has named his new digs Bethany House. “I chose this name calling to mind the hospitality Jesus experienced in the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus in Bethany,” the archbishop told Northwest Catholic.
The St. Peters residence was not up to his requirements, Etienne added. “I am unable to offer proper accommodation for visiting bishops and priests, nor am I able to entertain guests and host meetings given its size and layout.”
The purchase of a home in an expensive neighborhood is described as “very troubling,” by Heal Our Church, a local Catholic reform group whose members include two former U.S. attorneys, a retired King County Superior Court judge, and numerous prominent lay Catholics.
“We call upon the archdiocese to cancel his moving to the house, sell the property to support parishes and social services must as he promised when appointed,” said Heal Our Church.
Timothy Law, an attorney and member of the group, recalled Etienne’s words when he arrived in Seattle from Anchorage. “’As a sign to you I will do things differently,’ he effectively said, ‘You can trust me. I will live more simply. I shouldn’t live better than most of the people I serve. I’m a pastor, not a prince. I will sell the mansion and give the money to church causes.”
The Archdiocese of Seattle already owns the Alex Brunett/Palisades Retreat Center in Federal Way, overlooking Puget Sound. It holds two bishops’ suites, a handsome chapel, along with several private rooms with private baths.
The Mt. Baker residence is a downsizing from Connolly House, but not as much as one prelate has done. “It’s definitely in opposition to the example of Pope Francis, who has boycotted the papal apartments and chosen to live in a small two-room apartment in the Vatican guest house,” said Pat Callahan, a former priest and pastor in the Seattle archdiocese. Added Heal Our Church, “By claiming to live by the ‘model and message’ of Pope Francis, we cannot help but wonder what the Pope would make of this.”
Connolly House is named for the late Archbishop Thomas A. Connolly, the fifth bishop and first Archbishop of Seattle, a stern ruler of the diocese from 1950 to 1975. Seminarians and young priests found a summons to the mansion was usually the occasion for a reprimand.
Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen, Connolly’s successor, believed in a simpler lifestyle and lived in the now-sold St. Thomas Seminary in Kenmore. The Apostolic Delegate in Washington, D.C., once urgently tried to reach Hunthausen, but was told he was unavailable. The archbishop had gone off atop a riding lawn mower and nobody knew where he was.
Succeeding Archbishops Thomas Murphy and Alex Brunett opened Connolly House to the faithful. Murphy invited Catholic members of the local media, practicing and fallen away, to breakfast at the mansion. Brunett hosted dinners for volunteers and achievers, such as valedictorians at diocesan Catholic high schools.
The most famous prelate’s mansion was built in Brighton, Massachusetts, by Boston’s longtime Cardinal William O’Connell. The four-story mansion boasted ornate mahogany and marble appointments. It was sold to pay an $85 million settlement to 540 victims of priest sex abuse. (Cardinal O’Connell didn’t live there year around. He decamped to Bermuda in mid-winter and was memorably nicknamed “Gangplank Bill” by Boston Mayor James Michael Curley.)
Other renowned prelate palaces include the 15,000-square-foot Madison Avenue mansion, connected to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, in which New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan lives, along with three priests. Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, along with his priest-secretary and pastor of the Baltimore Basilica, live in an historic 11,500-square foot home. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 2002 spent $7 million to build a 26,000 square foot home, now residence of Archbishop Jose Gomez and six priests.
Pope Francis is firm on downsizing and his disapproval of lavish lifestyles, saying once “How I would like a church which is poor and for the poor,” and has cautioned fellow prelates against having a “psychology of princes.” He doesn’t live “over the shop” in the Apostolic Palace, or take summers as Castle Gandolfo, but goes home to the guest house at night.
Archbishop Etienne has contended with a Seattle flock which refuses to be docile. Not long on the job, Heal Our Church called on the archbishop to name a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to examine and lay out the full history of clerical sexual abuse in the Western Washington archdiocese. Etienne declined to do so, in a letter that rebuked the group.
The archdiocese has faced criticism over closure of St. Mary’s and St. Patrick’s parishes, both centers of social activism. By contrast, Etienne has won applause over his quick, proactive response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Etienne is given the job of living in a new home, and living with his words spoken about Connolly House three years ago: “This house doesn’t represent who I am. I think the days of bishops living in a manner that’s a lot nicer than the majority of their people live, those days are gone and they should be.”