Home of Tampa Bay's Catholic bishop doesn't measure up to those under scrutiny elsewhere

Bishop Robert Lynch’s 3,929-square-foot house, owned by the five-county Diocese of St. Petersburg, is assessed at $492,236.
Bishop Robert Lynch’s 3,929-square-foot house, owned by the five-county Diocese of St. Petersburg, is assessed at $492,236.
Published April 3, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis eschewed a church palace for a modest apartment. Now head of the world's estimated 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, he is shunning expansive papal apartments for simpler quarters.

So it wasn't surprising that a German cleric's ostentatious $43 million residence and complex would become worldwide news, as did the $2.2 million mansion of Atlanta's archbishop.

Though large and on the water, the home of Bishop Robert Lynch, who leads Tampa Bay Catholics, is modest by comparison. His is in a St. Petersburg neighborhood near Weedon Island and, according to property records, is assessed at $492,236. Owned by the five-county Diocese of St. Petersburg, the 3,929-square-foot house features a fireplace and pool and is tax-free.

If he were to do it again, he would move into a simpler home, Lynch said through spokesman Frank Murphy.

"I moved into the house when I became bishop because it was the bishop's residence for the diocese," he said.

"I think Pope Francis is right. We all need to live more simply."

Built in 1980, the house underwent $76,977 in renovations in 2005, almost a decade after Lynch arrived to lead the diocese that now encompasses almost a half-million Catholics in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Hernando, Citrus and Pasco counties.

Lynch uses the property to host events to thank parishioners and to house visiting clergy, Murphy said. The pope's representative to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, was a houseguest last September, when he visited for the celebration of the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle's $9 million makeover.

"If you came in the house, what you will notice is there's really no living room, per se," Murphy said. "In place of the living room, the bishop has a very, very large dining table that seats 16 people. … It's a private residence, but he uses it to serve the purposes of the diocese."

The diocese bought the northeast St. Petersburg property in 1989 for Bishop John C. Favalora, who went on to head the Archdiocese of Miami until his retirement four years ago.

"I think, originally, when it was purchased, there were some questions raised," Murphy said.

Favalora would have selected the property and put it before the diocese's finance council, which is made up of lay people and clergy, he said. Ultimately, though, it would have been the bishop's decision to buy the house, Murphy said.

Lynch, 72, faces mandatory retirement at 75. Murphy said the diocese will continue to be responsible for his housing.

"Typically, (retired) bishops might have a small home or condo," he said.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.