Ethics Institutions

After ‘Bishop Bling’ scandal, Vatican silent on Atlanta archbishop’s $2.2 million mansion

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory was President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops when the sexual abuse reforms were discussed 10 years ago. (2002 RNS file photo)

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Days after Pope Francis summoned a controversial German bishop for talks on his luxurious lifestyle, the Vatican is facing an embarrassing new scandal about the lavish spending of Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory.

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory was President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops when the sexual abuse reforms were discussed 10 years ago.  (2002 photo)

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory was President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops when the sexual abuse reforms were discussed in 2002. RNS file photo.

Gregory on Monday (March 31) apologized for a lapse in judgment after he built a plush $2.2 million mansion for himself in the heart of Atlanta’s upscale Buckhead district.

His extravagant investment has provoked an outcry from some local Catholics, forcing the 66-year-old archbishop to “apologize sincerely and from my heart” in a statement published in The Georgia Bulletin, a Catholic newspaper.

“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 said.

“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.”

On Tuesday, Vatican officials declined to comment on Gregory’s house, but the episode is particularly embarrassing since Francis met with German Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst behind closed doors at the Vatican last Friday.

The German, dubbed “Bishop Bling” by his critics and the media, was removed from his official position after spending $43 million of church funds on a luxury residence.

It is unclear whether the Vatican will consider similar action against Gregory, who led the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops through the clergy sex abuse scandal a year ago. But since his election a year ago, Francis has been urging Catholic clergy to set an example and to adopt a more austere approach.

The pope himself rejected the Vatican’s ornate papal apartments for more simple lodging in the Santa Marta residence behind St. Peter’s Basilica and chose a humble Ford Focus for his official vehicle.

Construction of Gregory’s new 6,000-square-foot home was funded by money left by parishioner Joseph Mitchell, nephew of “Gone With the Wind” author Margaret Mitchell, when he died in 2011.

Mitchell left $15 million and his home to his local parish and the archdiocese and asked that his endowment be used for charity.

Gregory said he had received many “heartfelt, genuine and candidly rebuking” telephone calls, letters and emails for what he had done and published one atop his apology: “We are disturbed and disappointed to see our church leaders not setting the example of a simple life as Pope Francis calls for,” read the anonymous complaint.

The archbishop’s personal apology came as he appeals on his own archdiocese website for donations to the church’s 2014 annual appeal beneath the headline, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Gregory said he would consider putting the new home on the market to ease parishioners’ concerns, but has not made a final decision.

KRE/LEM END MCKENNA

About the author

Josephine McKenna

Josephine McKenna has more than 30 years' experience in print, broadcast and interactive media. Based in Rome since 2007, she covered the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis and canonizations of their predecessors. Now she covers all things Vatican for RNS.

10 Comments

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  • It was my understanding that house on the Mitchell property was not suited for the Bishop’s needs and he was planning on constructing a new house. He then backed off of his plans when the letters were pouring in. He then decided to sell the property and look for somewhere more simple. He was going to put in the hands of the presbyteral council and pastoral council.
    What should of been reported that Archbishop Gregory sent out a open letter of apology. Bishop Myer of Newark did not.

  • The Vatican bank holds approx. $8.2 billion in assests despite millions of starving Catholics world wide.

  • I believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to spending in the catholic church and other churches as well. Shame on them.

  • Pope Francis or Bishop of Rome as he prefers to be called, may be humble in the judgement of his admirers by showing to be frugal in the eyes of the world but at the same time he has also humbled the sacredness of the almost 2000 years old Traditional Liturgy as codified in the Quo Primum of Pope St. Pius V in 1570. He undermines or ignores the validity of the Latin Rite and tolerated the ecclesiastic and masonic worship in all Churches. I remember the saying and I quote: “All the good works necessary for salvation are in vain should you keep a single mortal sin in your soul”.

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