The Roman Catholic archbishop of Atlanta said Saturday that he will sell a $2.2-million US mansion just three months after he moved in as he tried to appease angry parishioners who insisted that he follow the example set by Pope Francis.
Archbishop Wilton Gregory announced the decision following a closed-door meeting with members of several church councils at his headquarters. 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.
A group of Catholics in Gregory's diocese had asked since January that he sell off the more than 560-square-metre 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.
Gregory sold his previous home to Christ The King Cathedral, which plans to expand it and house its priests there. The archbishop has said he would seek to live in a setting more modest than his current or previous home.
Laura Mullins, one of several Catholics who asked Gregory to sell the mansion, praised the archbishop for making a quick decision and ending the controversy.
'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?' - Laura Mulllins, parishioner
The mansion was made possible by a generous 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.