Beachfront home for Philly priests being auctioned

August 14, 2012 5:23:33 PM PDT
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia will auction off a sprawling beachfront villa in New Jersey to help close a budget deficit that officials say currently stands at $6 million.

The 11-bedroom vacation house in Ventnor, near Atlantic City, is set for auction on Sept. 15.

Villa St. Joseph takes up an entire block and is assessed at about $6.3 million. It's been a retreat for priests for half a century, but the taxes alone are now almost $115,000 a year.

The Philadelphia archdiocese is also selling the archbishop's private residence, a downtown office building, a former seminary and other assets to address the deficit. And Archbishop Charles Chaput has cut 45 jobs at archdiocesan headquarters.

Legal fees alone have cost the archdiocese more than $10 million in the past two fiscal years, amid a lengthy criminal trial and related civil litigation over clergy-abuse cases. That does not include many of the bills from the four-month trial of Monsignor William Lynn, who was convicted in June of felony child endangerment.

"We just can't afford to maintain and hold assets like Villa Saint Joseph by the Sea and my residence," Chaput said in a statement Monday. "Selling these assets will help us as we work to ensure the long-term financial stability and position the archdiocese for future growth. It will also allow us to remain committed to the services and support we provide to the faithful as well as the broader community."

The diocese has said, however, said that while the legal expenses are "burdensome" they have played little role in the decision to sell off assets.

The 10,000-square-foot Villa St. Joseph spans an entire beach block. Each of the 11 bedrooms has an attached bathroom. The auction will be held onsite and run by Max Spann Real Estate & Auction Co. of Annandale, N.J.

"We think it's the most efficient way to sell your property," said Bob Dann, the company's chief operating officer. "With unique parcels, it's hard to put a value on them. You put them up for auction and the market will tell you what they're worth."

The archdiocese bought the villa for $1,000 in about 1963 from a family that left the archdiocese several properties.

The archdiocese still owns a smaller home down the street and does not currently plan to sell it, spokeswoman Donna Farrell said. That house has traditionally been used for overflow space but is not in use this summer, she said. It's assessed at $875,000, with annual taxes of $16,000, according to online county records.

The cardinal's residence, near Philadelphia, is expected to be sold through a private sale. Other properties set to be sold off include the Holy Family Center, a former convent near the downtown Philadelphia cathedral that houses social service agencies, which will be relocated; and the Mary Immaculate Center in Northampton, a 452-acre former seminary near Allentown.

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