ATLANTA — Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta has apologized for constructing a new $2.2-million residence, saying the plan was well-intended, but he failed to consider the example it set.
“To all of you, I apologize sincerely and from my heart,” he wrote in a March 31 column for The Georgia Bulletin, the Atlanta archdiocesan newspaper.
“Our intention was to recreate the residence I left behind, yet I know there are situations across the country where local ordinaries have abandoned their large homes, some because of financial necessity and others by choice, and they continue to find ways to interact with the families in their pastoral care without the perception, real or imagined, of lavish lifestyles.”
The archbishop became the target of criticism for constructing the 6,200-square-foot mansion, paid for through a bequest from Joseph Mitchell, the nephew and heir of Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell.
Archbishop Gregory said he had agreed to sell his original residence to the Cathedral of Christ the King so that its priests could use it as their rectory. He had thought that refusing to give up this residence would be perceived as “selfish and arrogant” by the cathedral’s parishioners.
In his search for a new residence, he said, “I took my eye off the ball.”
He planned to build the same kind of facility as his previous residence, with separate living quarters and common spaces, a large kitchen for catering and room for receptions and other gatherings.
“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.”
Archbishop Gregory noted that even before Pope Francis’ election, bishops “were reminded by our own failings and frailty that we are called to live more simply, more humbly and more like Jesus Christ, who challenges us to be in the world and not of the world.”
“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.”
He said that although he and his advisers were able to justify this project, “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.
“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 also said he failed to consider that he had placed his auxiliary bishops, priests and others in a “difficult position” to respond to criticisms and inquiries from the Catholic faithful.
Archbishop Gregory opened his column with an email from a Catholic mother who said she was “disturbed and disappointed to see our Church leaders not setting the example of a simple life as Pope Francis calls for.” She said the archbishop was “living extravagantly” and that her teenage sons did not understand “the message you are portraying.”
The archbishop said, “I failed to consider the example I was setting” for the woman’s sons. He said such indictments are “stinging and sincere,” adding, “I should have seen them coming.”
He also apologized to those who might have hesitated to advise against the plan, “perhaps out of deference or other concerns.” He said he intends “to do a better job of listening than I did before.”
He said he will meet with the archdiocese’s Council of Priests and its pastoral council, and he will consult the archdiocese’s finance council to seek “their candid guidance on how best to proceed.”
If they advise to sell the new residence, he will seek to purchase or rent “something appropriate.”
“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’s column said.
“I humbly and contritely ask your prayers for me, and I assure you, as always, of mine for you.”