SMYRNA, Ga. – Trying to appease angry parishioners, the 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 offered to move elsewhere.
A group of Catholics in Gregory's diocese had asked since January that he sell off the more than 6,000-square-foot home 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 guestroom instead of a Vatican palace. He has denounced the "idolatry of money" and warned against "insidious worldliness" within the church.
"He's called us to live more simply," Gregory told The Associated Press 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 in a then-overwhelmingly Protestant country. 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 local church 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. Tax records show the cathedral then bought the archbishop's old residence for $1.9 million. Cathedral officials intend to expand that home so it can move its priests off the cathedral campus, which frees up space for its growing congregation.
As a result, Gregory needed a new home.
He demolished Mitchell's old house and replaced it with an expansive mansion. It 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.