About New York: A Bronx Church’s O’Reilly Factor

About New York: A Bronx Church’s O’Reilly Factor

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Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in the Bronx, which has received a large donation from Bill O’Reilly, the recently deposed Fox News host, for its centennial restoration project.

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Alex Wroblewski for The New York Times

In late morning, a murmur of prayers rose from the front pews of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in the Bronx, a soft cloud of Spanish words that floated toward the soaring vaults of the nave.

Santa María, Madre de Dios …

At the back of the church, a plaque commemorates scores of donors whose might and money restored the church a half-century ago: Toscanos and Fioritos and Giantasios, a roster of the Italian families who lived in this parish for much of the 20th century, when it became known as the Bronx incarnation — and by far the most authentic — of New York’s Little Italies.

Stacked on a table were leaflets inviting people to contribute their thoughts on the restoration of the church for the 100th anniversary in September of its first Mass. The pastor of Mount Carmel, the Rev. Jonathan Morris, says the parish plans to spend $1.6 million on brick-and-mortar repairs, and on expanding its services to a community of immigrants — many of them Mexican, and quite a few of those living without legal authority to be in the country.

Then there is this.

A rumor has taken hold in the neighborhood that Bill O’Reilly, the recently deposed Fox News host, has contributed an eye-popping portion of the funds needed for the centennial. Father Morris would not discuss any details about the contribution of Mr. O’Reilly or anyone else, but said they had met and become friends at Fox News, where the priest provides occasional religious commentary. Moreover, he said the church had raised only half its budget.

How much did Mr. O’Reilly give? “It was not a million,” said Mark Fabiani, a spokesman for Mr. O’Reilly, “but it was substantial.”

Mr. O’Reilly, who must be counted among the most influential television commentators of this age, was pushed out of his job this week after revelations by The New York Times that more than $13 million had been paid to women who accused him of sexual harassment. Mr. O’Reilly has said that the charges are untrue, but that he settled those cases to protect his children from the toxic splatter of litigation.

On the same day his departure was announced, Mr. O’Reilly, on vacation in Italy with his family, scored tickets to a V.I.P. area in St. Peter’s Square and got a handshake with the pope. It was a fluke of timing: The papal tickets had been arranged by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York months earlier, well ahead of Mr. O’Reilly’s high-velocity skid out the door.

It is hardly surprising that a wealthy, famous man who has donated large sums of money to the church would get the minor privilege of lining up with other semifamous or semirich people in a crowded square. (Apart from whatever he gave to Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the Bronx, public records show that the Winifred and William O’Reilly Foundation has contributed millions to various causes, including $85,000 for Catholic Charities of New York.) But perhaps more intriguing is why Mr. O’Reilly, who was openly critical of Pope Francis for his views on immigration, would want or settle for a fleeting encounter.

Similarly, the parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel might seem an unlikely beneficiary of Mr. O’Reilly’s wealth. The Cinco de Mayo festival is celebrated in its streets. Besides restoring the statues and murals featuring saints of the Italian church, Father Morris said, the project will introduce the iconography of the Latin American church: the Virgin of Guadalupe, venerated by Mexicans, and of Altagracia, for Dominicans.

“It has been a parish that has welcomed immigrants from its beginnings,” Father Morris said.

The money being raised for Mount Carmel’s centennial, Father Morris said, is not simply for physical ornaments, but also for programs to serve teenagers and children. “We’re not making a museum,” he said. “There’s no sense being a beautiful church if there are no people in it.”

The needs of that ministry, he said, are what he pitches to potential donors. Whatever he said to Mr. O’Reilly — and he would not discuss it — seemed to work. “Bill said he knows and likes the priest, and decided to help with the project,” Mr. Fabiani said.

Few large religious or educational institutions shy away from money, whether raised through honest toil, stock manipulation or profitable demagogy, and whether motivated by pure hearts or ones hopeful of redemption. In its founding teachings, the Catholic Church welcomes sinners, which covers just about everyone at some point. Sooner or later, a doctrine of forgiveness comes in handy for all sides.

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