Records show religious organizations own luxury So Fla homes
Luxury homes are tax-free, classified as parsonages or rectories
MIAMI – Local 10 has discovered pastors, priests, rabbis and reverends have some of the best addresses in South Florida, from a gated street in Coconut Grove to a tree-lined avenue in Coral Gables; from a waterfront house on Normandy Isle to a 5,000-square-foot house in Plantation Acres.
These luxury homes are all tax-free, classified as parsonages or rectories -- the place where a religious leader lives.
The newly appointed Pope has been preaching a life of simplicity and no frills since being appointed last year. Pope Francis suspended a German bishop for living in a $43 million home.
The Pope drives an old beat-up car and lives in a small room. Pope Francis even sold his Harley Davidson with the proceeds going to feed the poor, and he has encouraged the church to follow his example.
But is that happening in South Florida?
Records show the Archdiocese of Miami owns a five-bedroom, four-bath house that's assessed at more than $2 million in Southwest Ranches, a $750,000, five-bedroom Coral Springs house and a $650,000 house in Coral Gables to name a few.
Local 10's Jeff Weinsier asked Monsignor Chanel Jeanty if he believes there is extravagant living in the Archdiocese of Miami.
"No, I don't," said Jeanty.
Property records also show Archbishop Thomas Wenski lives in a six-bedroom, six-bath house on Biscayne Bay. The assessed value of the archbishop's house is $1.2 million, but likely worth much more.
"It could be seen as extravagant, yes, but the archbishop is the head of the church and as such he also has to entertain a lot of events and fundraising," said Jeanty.
Jeanty is the second to Wenski in South Florida. He said the accommodations provided to priests are often comparable to the homes in the area where the church is.
Church members who refused to go on camera said it's hard to donate knowing money is going to maintain huge homes. Has there ever been talk of selling some of the larger houses?
"Not that I know of," said Jeanty.
The Archdiocese of Miami is not alone. Records show the Metro Life Worship Center in Doral paid just under a million dollars for five-bedroom, five-bath, 6,000-square-foot Kendall home in 2012.
The Rev. Steve Alessi didn't return several calls.
Records show the Bet Menachem Synagogue owns a $900,000 house in Hollywood. The New Dawn Community Church owns a $850,000 house in Coral Springs. The Holy Tabernacle United Church in Fort Lauderdale owns a gated 5,000-square-foot house in Plantation Acres.
Records show the Rev. James Rorie, of the Faith Deliverance Center in Hollywood, lives in a $1 million Williams Island condo in Aventura. Building records show Rorie also pulled a permit to install $18,000 worth of marble floors.
"You have to be kidding me. I'm shocked," said a church member.
The Miami Dade Property Appraiser's Office said there are 217 pieces of that are tax-exempt and classified as parsonages. Broward doesn't keep exact numbers of parsonages. All these homes have been pulled off the tax rolls.
There are strict federal laws that govern religious facilities, including these homes. There is no cap, no limit, no restriction placed on what the value can be.
If the religious leader lives there, it can be tax-exempt.
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