Archbishop Wilton Gregory on Wednesday said he’ll likely sell the $2.2 million home he’s occupied since January — an announcement cheered by parishioners who felt he was living too opulent a lifestyle.
The two-story brick structure on Habersham Road has been the topic of criticism and national news coverage. Gregory has said he’ll confer with an advisory council before making any final decision on whether to put the house up for sale, said a spokeswoman for the archdiocese.
She gave no details of when Gregory would sell the house, which belongs to the archdiocese.
Laura Mullins said the millions spent on building Gregory’s home could have been used for the poor.
“I think that’s wonderful news,” Mullins, a parishioner at the Cathedral of Christ the King, said when she heard the house might be put on the market. “The sooner I see a sign on the front lawn, the happier I’ll be.”
Gregory was not available for comment, but said earlier this week that he erred in moving to a 6,196-foot house in the toniest section of Atlanta. Writing in the Georgia Bulletin, an archdiocesan publication, Gregory said he’d received “heartfelt, genuine and candidly rebuking letters, emails and telephone messages” from parishioners critical of his new quarters.
They also questioned the plans of Christ the King’s rector, Monsignor Rev. Frank McNamee, to vacate that parish’s rectory. McNamee had proposed moving himself and six priests from the rectory, located at Christ the King’s Buckhead campus, to the archbishop’s old home on West Wesley Road. That plan would cost another $2.2 million — $1.9 million to buy the house from the archdiocese and an additional $300,000 for renovations.
The money for both projects came from $15 million left by Joseph Mitchell, a longtime Christ the King parishioner who died in 2011. Mitchell, nephew of “Gone With the Wind” author Margaret Mitchell, asked that the money be used for the parish and for archdiocese charitable works.
He also left to the archdiocese his ranch home on a 1.8-acre tract on Habersham Road. The archdiocese flattened it and built Gregory’s new house on the site. Among its features: a three-car garage, two dining rooms and a “safe room” guarded by a steel door. An Atlanta Realtor estimated the home might sell for as much as $3.8 million.
Wednesday, as word spread that the archbishop was considering a sale, some parishioners said he was following the example set by Pope Francis. The pontiff has urged all Catholics, clergy as well as laity, to live more simply.
“His house was just a complete contrast to what Pope Francis is asking us to do,” said Christine Peters, a parishioner at Christ the King. “This just flies in the face of what the he’s been saying.”
Charles Zech, a Villanova University professor who studies church finances, said Gregory is joining bishops in Pittsburgh, Boston and Philadelphia in moving out of fine homes for humbler quarters.
“A lot of that is occurring because of the pope,” said Zech, director of Villanova’s Center for the Study of Church Management. “For a long time, the church had not been a good steward of its resources.”
Gregory heard his critics and moved quickly to repair his image, Zech added.
“The criticism he’s received just hurt his reputation so much,” Zech said. “He really didn’t have a choice.”
Yet not everyone thinks the archbishop should move.
“I feel like that Mr. Mitchell wanted the archdiocese to have the property, so it all worked out,” said Anne Mattus, a Christ the King parishioner. “Maybe he didn’t need to build such a big house.”
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