Now, those ideas - once hard to imagine - are becoming a reality.
Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, says the archbishop's official residence is being put up for sale - along with 28 of the 60 acres that surround the building.
Boston's new archbishop, Sean P. O'Malley, never moved into the building when he was installed last July. He instead chose to occupy a more modest rectory behind the cathedral. O'Malley is a Capuchin Franciscan monk, one of several religious orders that require its members to take a vow of poverty.
The archbishop's residence - marble and mahogany, designed to look like an Italian palace - has been since 1925 a symbol of the church's importance and the influence of Boston's Catholics, especially Irish and Italian immigrants, in that city.
In recent months, however, the opulence of the property began to rankle victims and other Catholics, who argued it should be sold so that the sex abuse settlements would not divert cash from church activities such as helping the poor.
The church needs to come up with $85 million to compensate hundreds of victims of sexual abuse.
"The archbishop had said that in order to pay for the settlement he would not use any present parish assets, or money from the Catholic Appeal or from the capital campaign," said Coyne, in a New York Times interview. "That left him very few assets to use, and the only big one that was left was the residence. He did what needed to be done."
The residence is part of a 60-acre tract that includes St. John's Seminary and the chancery buildings, which house the archdiocese's administrative offices.
In September 2002, at the height of the sexual abuse crisis, the archdiocese took out a $38 million mortgage on the entire 60 acres.
"There's more than enough to cover the settlement," archdiocesan finance council member Robert Morrissey told the Times, estimating the worth of the property to be sold as far more than $85 million. "But it's a real stab in the heart for the church because they're giving away maybe the most valuable piece of property the church owns in all of Massachusetts."
Insurance policies will also be footing a large portion of the bill for the sex abuse scandal.
Selling the property might not take very long.
Boston College, which is across the street, has long been mentioned as a potential buyer.
Victims interviewed by the Times had mixed reactions.
"Bravo," said Gary Bergeron, one of 552 abuse victims who will receive money from the church's settlement agreement. "We had asked them to do that so many times over the last two years, and at all of those meetings we've had, we had suggested that as a symbolic step, if nothing else."
Bernie McDaid, another victim, said the timing could have been a lot better.
"My first gut reaction," said McDaid, "is I wish they did this a long time ago, and it would have meant more to me."