SMYRNA, Ga. (AP) – After strong objections from local Roman Catholics, Archbishop Wilton Gregory said in an interview Wednesday that he believes the church will probably sell a $2.2 million mansion built for his own use.
The top-ranking churchman in Atlanta said he will decide what to do with the Tudor-style mansion in Atlanta’s toniest neighborhood after consulting with several church councils. Under church rules, the archbishop alone has the authority to sell the nearly 6,400-square-foot home.
Still, Gregory said he wants advice from others in his diocese before making the final call. The prelate said he has not discussed the controversy with his church superiors. He sent documents this week describing the decision to buy and build the property – including his public letter of apology – to the pope’s ambassador in Washington.
“I intend to speak directly and clearly, but more importantly I intend to listen to them, which I did not do effectively at the beginning of the process,” Gregory told The Associated Press during an interview at the diocesan headquarters. “My heart tells me … they’re going to recommend that the property be sold. But I don’t want to anticipate that, I don’t want to deprive them of the opportunity to grapple with me over the situation. But I’d be surprised if they didn’t.”
If the mansion is sold, Gregory said he will look for a more modest residence.
The archbishop has come under criticism since moving into the massive home in January. It has an upper-level safe room, an eight-burner kitchen stove, an elevator, public and private offices and two dining rooms. It was initially envisioned as more opulent. For example, earlier plans called for a wine room and an antique chandelier in the foyer.
Gregory said he scaled back the costs. For instance, he said he remembered selecting the least-expensive brickwork when presented with three options.
“My first question was, ‘What’s the least expensive option?’ That’s what we would do. So yeah, it’s still very expensive. … I’m not in any way distancing me from that.”
Gregory sold his old residence to Christ The King Cathedral so it could move its priests into the archbishop’s former home, freeing up space on the cathedral campus. The cathedral purchased Gregory’s old home for $1.9 million using funds donated to it after the death of Joseph Mitchell, the nephew of the author of the Civil War epic “Gone With The Wind.”
With the money from that sale and additional funds from the diocese, Gregory built his new mansion in Buckhead.
In his will, Mitchell asked that church officials use his estate, worth more than $15 million, for “general religious and charitable purposes.” Mitchell sought primary consideration for his home parish, Christ the King Cathedral.
Gregory apologized Monday to local Catholics in a column written for the website of the archdiocese newspaper, saying that the new pope has “set the bar” for Catholics and others. Pope Francis has made it clear that he wants bishops and priests to live modestly, even asking that they avoid driving fancy cars or using the latest iPhone.
Francis wrote an apostolic exhortation – effectively a blueprint for his papacy – in which he denounced the “idolatry of money,” self-indulgence and “insidious worldliness” within the church. Under his watch, church officials are reviewing Vatican spending, putting a freeze on hiring and cutting overtime.
Gregory said the real estate plans in Atlanta were in place before Francis was elected pope in 2013. When asked whether the spending was appropriate even before Francis took office, Gregory said that he initially set out to replicate his old home, which was built before he arrived in Atlanta.
The archbishop said his old home allowed him to host thousands of people over the years at dinners, receptions and other social events. He said he will miss hosting those events.
“Hindsight is always 20-20,” Gregory said. “And obviously, going forward, if the next stage is to sell that house, which as I said was a real possibility … I certainly won’t try to replicate that in a future purchase or rental.”
Follow Ray Henry on Twitter: http://twitter.com/rhenryAP.
(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)