The Roman Catholic archbishop of Atlanta demolished a ranch home that had been donated to the church by Joseph Mitchell, whose aunt Margaret Mitchell wrote "Gone With The Wind," and spent $2.2 million of the bequest to build himself a Tudor-style mansion.
The project, which began in 2012, sparked outrage among some of the archdiocese’s 1 million parishioners when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last month in a front-page story reported that Archbishop Wilton Gregory had recently moved in.
This week, Gregory apologized in the archdiocese’s newspaper. Gregory, 66, said he will meet with advisors and decide what to do with his new, 6,000-square-foot home.
“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,” Gregory said in the Catholic paper.
“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,” he wrote.
In letters and phone calls to the archbishop, many churchgoers said they were confused about how Gregory could justify living in such a large, new home when Pope Francis has espoused frugality.
Gregory acknowledged that even “before the phenomenon we have come to know as Pope Francis was elected” that bishops have been asked to live “simply, more humbly, and more like Jesus Christ who challenges us to be in the world and not of the world.
“We teach that stewardship is half about what you give away, and half about how you use what you choose to keep,” Gregory said. “I believe that to be true.”
The donor, Joseph Mitchell, wanted most of the money from his estate to benefit his longtime parish, the Cathedral of Christ, the archdiocese said after Mtichell's death in 2011.
Gregory said the number of parishioners at the Cathedral of Christ was growing and the church needed more space. Gregory decided to let parish priests move into the home he was living in, opening up space on the Cathedral of Christ site.
Gregory then tore down the existing 2,400-square-foot Mitchell home and rebuilt the larger mansion to accommodate church meetings and events. Some parishioners defended that decision. But others said the church should have made do with the original Mitchell house.
"The example of the Holy Father, and the way people of every sector of our society have responded to his message of gentle joy and compassion without pretense, has set the bar for every Catholic and even for many who don't share our communion," Gregory said.