A Georgia bishop has apologized for building a $2.2 million home using donated money earmarked for religious and charitable use.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory build the mansion on property donated to the church by Joseph Mitchell, the heir of “Gone with the Wind” author Margaret Mitchell’s fortune. Wilton tore down the building on the property and built a much larger house.
The mansion was built with funds from the Mitchell estate that were to be used for religious and charitable purposes.
“The plan seemed very simple,” Gregory said. “We will build here what we had there — separate living quarters and common spaces, a large kitchen for catering, and lots of 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.”
Gregory moved out of his former home to provide a rectory for the Cathedral of Christ the King, a church close to his old residence.
“As the Shepherd of this local Church, a responsibility I hold more dear than any other, certainly more than any configuration of brick and mortar, I am disappointed that, while my advisers 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,” the archbishop continues in the message.
At the end of the notice, the archbishop says that he will meet with his councilors to make a decision about whether or not the building should be sold. Readers can see Gregory’s complete response in the Catholic publication The Georgia Bulletin.
Outraged parishioners were happy about the apology, but they won’t be completely satisfied until the archbishop actually sells the house, said Laura Mullins, who is leading a group of local Catholics who think the archbishop’s home goes against the values expressed by Pope Francis, who has made modesty a focus of his papacy.
“I think it’s wonderful that Archbishop Gregory apologized,” Mullins said. “I think it was needed, I think it was unexpected. It’s very unusual for a Catholic leader to apologize for a mistake in the church. But it’s welcomed.
“I’m a little concerned that he’s turning to council who are in essence serving him,” Mullins continued. “They may feel that it is not their place to oppose the archbishop or to criticize him. They should listen to the pope. The pope is telling the world as often as he can to live simply so others can simply live.”
The pope has chosen to live in a small apartment instead of the usual grand papal quarters. Last week, he removed the German “Bishop of Bling” who lived in a $43 million mansion.
“We are in the middle of Lent, which is the holiest season in the Catholic Church,” she said. “We don’t need to be distracted by this horrible issue.”