Responding to pressure from parishioners and the example set by Pope Francis, Atlanta-based Archbishop Wilton Gregory announced Saturday he will sell his $2.2-million Buckhead mansion in early May and invest the proceeds in the Catholic community.
Gregory was criticized by church members and received national attention for building a 6,195-square-foot structure on property donated by Joseph Mitchell, a longtime Cathedral of Christ the King parishioner who died in 2011 and was the nephew of “Gone With the Wind” author Margaret Mitchell. Gregory’s move to the posh Habersham Road property was seen as out-of-step with the new pope’s emphasis on living simply and serving the poor.
After a private two-hour meeting Saturday with three advisory councils, Gregory issued a statement announcing his decision.
“After consultation with the members and hundreds of well-meaning parishioners of differing points of view, as well as my own personal reflection and prayer, I have decided to sell the Habersham property and invest the proceeds from that sale into the needs of the Catholic community,” he said.
Gregory, who moved into the home in January, hasn’t decided where he will move next. Not under consideration is his old home on West Wesley Road, which is being renovated and may eventually house Monsignor Rector Frank McNamee, pastor at Christ the King, and six priests. Purchase and renovations of that property are also estimated at a combined $2.2 million.
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Patricia Chivers, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese, said Gregory’s next residence could be another available Archdiocesan property closer to the chancery.
“He realized he made a mistake in not taking into consideration the changes in society today,” she said. “It will be a modest residence for sure. It could be a townhouse.”
The money for the Buckhead house came from $15 million left by Mitchell, who asked it be used for the parish and for archdiocese charitable works. The archdiocese demolished Mitchell’s house and built a spacious Tudor-style home.
In an interview last month with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which published a front-page article on the building plans March 23, Gregory and McNamee said they decided to spend the money on the residences because Christ the King was growing and needed more space. McNamee has proposed razing the rectory located on the Buckhead church’s campus.
Gregory said he believed the $2.2 million home would have received the pope’s blessing.
Soon after, Gregory reversed course and issued a public apology, saying he “failed to project the cost in terms of my own integrity and pastoral credibility with the people of God of north and central Georgia.”
“I want to thank those parishioners whose prayers, counsel and concern brought this issue to light and ensured that their archbishop was properly attuned to the important symbolism of simple actions and the challenges faced by many of the faithful in the Archdiocese of Atlanta,” Gregory said Saturday.
Laura Mullins, a parishioner who met with Gregory and asked that the home be sold, said she was surprised by Saturday’s announcement.
“When we first met with (the) archbishop (in January) after emails and trying to get someone to pay attention to our concerns, I was not hopeful this would be the conclusion,” she said. “I think it is very impressive he listened to people and brought this to a conclusion very quickly. … He listened to people who said you must lead by example.”
However, parishioner Barbara Pennington, who has been a member of Christ the King for three years, said she believes Gregory should have kept the home.
“Everyone is being so negative,” she said. “I don’t think they should be bullied into changing their minds. These people have given their lives for their parishioners.”