Three months after moving into a $2.2 million mansion amid criticism for lavish spending of church money, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Atlanta announced Saturday that he will sell the 6,196-square-foot building he has been using as his official residence.
"After consultation with the members and hundreds of well-meaning parishioners of differing points of view, as well as my own personal reflection and prayer, I have decided to sell the Habersham property and invest the proceeds from that sale into the needs of the Catholic community," Archbishop Wilton Gregory said in a statement Saturday after a closed-door meeting with members of church councils at his headquarters north of Atlanta, Ga.
The 66-year-old archbishop was criticized for building the mansion with $15 million donation the archdiocese received from the estate of Joseph Mitchell, a nephew of the author of Gone With The Wind, Margaret Mitchell.
The donor had asked that the money be used for the parish and for archdiocese charitable works.
The archbishop, who moved into the mansion in January after selling his old home to Christ The King Cathedral for $1.9 million, said Saturday he will leave the Tudor-style residence in the exclusive Buckhead neighborhood in early May.
"I want to thank those parishioners whose prayers, counsel and concern brought this issue to light and ensured that their archbishop was properly attuned to the important symbolism of simple actions and the challenges faced by many of the faithful in the Archdiocese of Atlanta," said Gregory, who was installed as the archbishop of Atlanta in 2005.
Gregory arrived at the Saturday's meeting in his Lexus. The meeting was attended by about 60 people, which included clergy and lay people, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Gregory announced the decision days after he wrote in the Georgia Bulletin, the church's newspaper: "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."
Laura Mullins, one of the Catholics who asked the archbishop to sell the house, praised Gregory. "He is the person we follow locally. He sets the mood. He sets the example for all of us to follow. If he is choosing to use a gift so personally, what does that tell the people sitting in the pews?" she told The Associated Press.
Pope Francis recently summoned a German bishop, Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, about his luxurious lifestyle. The controversial bishop, who spent $43 million of church funds on a luxury residence, was removed from his official position.
"He's called us to live more simply," Gregory said earlier, of the pope. "He also has encouraged bishops to grow closer to their people, to listen to their people. And that, I take as a pretty serious admonition. I'm disappointed in myself ... because in my nine years, I do believe that I've grown very close to the people of the archdiocese. And I think this decision is an aberration rather than a pattern."
When Pope Francis addressed the media for the first time, he reminded Catholics that Jesus, not the pope, is at the center of the Church, which he said should be "poor, and for the poor."