(Photo: Archdiocese of Atlanta and Michael Alexander)
Archbishop Wilton Gregory of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta has apologized to disappointed Catholics who sent him letters asking why he built a $2.2 million residential mansion. He called the decision an "oversight."
"I failed to consider the impact on the families throughout the Archdiocese who, though struggling to pay their mortgages, utilities, tuition and other bills, faithfully respond year after year to my pleas to assist with funding our ministries and services," Gregory wrote in a piece for The Georgia Bulletin on Monday. "I failed to consider the difficult position in which I placed my auxiliary bishops, priests, deacons and staff who have to try to respond to inquiries from the faithful about recent media reports when they might not be sure what to believe themselves.
"To all of you, I apologize sincerely and from my heart."
The Associated Press reported that the Atlanta archbishop recently moved to a 6,400-square-foot residence, which cost $2.2 million to build.
Explaining the details behind the arrangement, Gregory said that he had no desire to move from the archbishop's residence in West Wesley. But he was approached by the Cathedral of Christ the King, a nearby growing parish, to sell the house so that it could be used for the cathedral's rectory. He agreed and soon thereafter, both the Archdiocese of Atlanta and the Cathedral parish received a large donation from Joseph Mitchell, nephew of Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone With the Wind.
The donation included Joseph's home on Habersham Road. And that was where the archdiocese decided to relocate the archbishop's residence.
"The plan seemed very simple. We will build here what we had there-separate living quarters and common spaces, a large kitchen for catering, and lots of room for receptions and other gatherings," he explained.
"What we didn't stop to consider, and that oversight rests with me and me alone, was that the world and the Church have changed."
"As the Shepherd of this local Church, a responsibility I hold more dear than any other, certainly more than any configuration of brick and mortar, I am disappointed that, while my advisors and I were able to justify this project fiscally, logistically and practically, I personally failed to project the cost in terms of my own integrity and pastoral credibility with the people of God of north and central Georgia," he stated.
He argued that even before Pope Francis began calling the Church to be of the poor and for the poor, bishops were reminded of the call to live more simply and humbly, and be more like Jesus Christ.
Gregory said he will meet with the Archdiocesan Council of Priests and the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council in the next two months and also seek the advice of the Finance Council of the Archdiocese to resolve the matter.
"If it is the will of these trusted representative groups, the Archdiocese will begin the process of selling the Habersham residence," he said. "I would look to purchase or rent something appropriate elsewhere."
The Catholic Church has faced controversy surrounding bishops spending large amounts of money on residencies in recent times, most notably with the infamous "Bishop of Bling" Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Limburg, who was replaced last week by the Vatican.
The German bishop was found to have spent close to $43 million on a new residence for himself last year, sparking outrage among believers and criticism from top German leaders, including Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Gregory, who shared some of the letters he has received questioning what kind of example his decisions set for the faithful, promised to do a better job of listening to others than he did before.
"It has been my great privilege and honor to be your Archbishop for the past nine years. I promise you that my service to you is the reason I get up each day – not the house in which I live or the zip code to which my mail is sent," the archbishop concluded.
"I would never jeopardize the cherished and personal relationships I have built with so many of you over something that personally means so little after all."