After controversy, Calif. bishop to put planned retirement home up for sale

bishop zuchetto Credit  Antonio Gravante via Shutterstock CNA Antonio Gravante/Shutterstock.

A 73-year-old bishop in California has changed his retirement plans after media reports sparked criticism of his decision to purchase a five-bedroom home for $2.3 million in California's overheated housing market.

While Bishop Patrick McGrath of San Jose said the purchase made economic sense as a good investment, he said he "erred in judgment" to purchase the house.

"I failed to consider adequately the housing crisis in this valley and the struggles of so many families and communities in light of that crisis," he said Aug. 27. "I have heard from many on this topic and I have decided that I will not move into this house."

The diocese will put the house up for sale "as soon as possible" and any profits will go to Charities Housing, under Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County.

"I assume full responsibility for this decision and I believe that the sale of the house is the appropriate action. I thank those who have advised me," he said.

The 3,300 square-foot home sits on one-third of an acre in San Jose's Willow Glen neighborhood.
The bishop first considered living in a diocese-owned house on cemetery property, but the retrofitting would have been too expensive.

Liz Sullivan, communications director for the Diocese of San Jose, told CNA the renovation's exact costs are not certain but the return on investment would not be good, "since few people would choose to live in a cemetery." The house's future would have been uncertain after the bishop left.

"The bishop is in good health for a man of 73, but a single-level house was desirable because of the stairs," Sullivan added.

McGrath said the Diocesan Finance Council and the College of Consultors approved the home purchase which later became a matter of controversy.

"I agreed with them that in economic terms the purchase of the home made sense in terms of financial return on investment," said the bishop.

The median sale price of a home in the city is now over $1 million, compared to a California-wide home price of $600,000, a record high as of May 2018, Business Insider reports. In the last year, the median sale price of San Jose homes increased by 24 percent ($210,000), the real estate site Trulia reports.

The bishop, who became head of the Diocese of San Jose in 1999, said when his retirement planning began he wanted to stay in the diocese.

"This has been my home for nearly 20 years," he said.

Under policy set by the U.S. bishops' conference, the Diocese of San Jose is responsible for paying the bishop's housing and upkeep when he retires.

McGrath said the home was purchased using a fund dedicated to housing retired bishops and using proceeds from the sale of a Menlo Park condominium where his predecessor, Bishop Pierre DuMaine, had lived before he moved into assisted living.

"The fund is a fund that can be used for nothing else," the bishop said. "When I'm not around anymore, the house can be sold. It's a good investment in that sense. It probably makes more money this way than if it were in the bank."

One McGrath critic said that the house purchase "seems very inappropriate."

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"Our diocese is greatly underfunded as it is," said the parishioner, who asked the Mercury News not to be identified to avoid harming relationships with other Catholics.

The Mercury News' report cited Bishop McGrath's own advocacy for affordable housing, such as a 2016 commentary piece backing a $950 million bond measure for affordable housing.

In his initial remarks, McGrath said he had looked at places "way out in the East Bay," but he liked the valley.

"I thought it would be nice to be here, to be of assistance if I can," he said.

The bishop has not announced a retirement date, though he has asked the Holy See permission to retire before the required retirement date of 75 years to allow a younger man to become bishop.

Bishop Oscar Cantú, 51, was named Coadjutor Bishop of San Jose in July; as such, he will succeed as Bishop of San Jose upon Bishop McGrath's retirement.

The retiring bishop had looked forward to a house with a yard.

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"I like to putter around in the garden," McGrath said. "So I think it would be good for me."

McGrath acknowledged to the Mercury News that many retired clerics live in retirement communities, in rectories, or in other accommodations.

"But I'd like to live in a house so I would have the freedom to help the diocese but not disturb the priests in the rectories," he said.