SMYRNA, Ga. – Trying to appease angry parishioners, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Atlanta said Saturday that he will sell a $2.2 million mansion just three months after he moved in.
Archbishop Wilton Gregory announced the decision following a closed-door meeting with members of several church councils at his headquarters north of Atlanta. He publicly apologized Monday for building the Tudor-style residence and will move out in early May.
"I have decided to sell the Habersham property and invest the proceeds from that sale into the needs of the Catholic community," Gregory told The Associated Press after the meeting. He declined to take questions.
Gregory sold his previous home to Christ The King Cathedral, which plans to expand it and house its priests there. The archbishop said this week that if the church sold the new mansion, he would seek to live in a setting more modest than his current or previous home.
A group of Catholics in Gregory's archdiocese had asked since January that he sell the nearly 6,400-square-foot mansion in keeping with the tone of austerity set by Pope Francis. Elected last year, Francis said he wants a church for the poor, drives in an economy car and lives in a guest house instead of a Vatican palace. He has denounced the "idolatry of money" and warned against "insidious worldliness" within the church.
Laura Mullins, one of several Catholics who asked Gregory to sell, praised the archbishop for making a quick decision and ending the controversy. The mansion was made possible by a multimillion dollar gift to the archdiocese.
"He is the person we follow locally," she said. "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?"
Gregory thanked parishioners for raising the issue, and he acknowledged earlier this week the importance of Francis' example.
"He's called us to live more simply," Gregory said in an interview Wednesday, prior to announcing the decision to sell the residence. "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."
Even before the new pope's election, top-ranking Catholics were selling off luxurious homes, most built decades or a century ago by their predecessors seeking to demonstrate the growing clout of the Catholic church. The downsizing by archbishops in Boston and Philadelphia was also symbolically important during a period when church officials were closing parishes, schools and paying big settlements over clergy sex abuse.
A generous gift from a wealthy donor in Atlanta made the luxurious residence possible.
Joseph Mitchell, the nephew of the author of "Gone With The Wind," left an estate worth more than $15 million to the archdiocese when he died in 2011. Mitchell asked in his will that the proceeds be used for "general religious and charitable purposes." He also requested that his parish, Christ The King Cathedral, get primary consideration.
The archdiocese gave $7.5 million to the cathedral, and cathedral officials bought Gregory's old home. By moving its priests into Gregory's former residence, the cathedral can free up space on its crowded campus.
Gregory used the proceeds from that sale and additional funds to demolish Mitchell's old home and build the mansion. The archbishop said that he set out to replicate his old residence, where he hosted local Catholics and others.
The mansion has an upper-level safe room, an eight-burner kitchen stove, an elevator, public and private offices and two dining rooms. Architects initially planned space for a wine room and wanted an antique chandelier in the foyer, though those plans were later dropped.
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