April 2nd, 2014
11:17 AM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN) - Facing sharp criticism for falling out of step with Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Atlanta has apologized for building a $2.2 million mansion on land bequeathed by the family of a famed Southern writer.
Atlanta's Archbishop Wilton Gregory said he approved construction of the 6,000-square-foot home after agreeing to leave the traditional archbishop's residence to make way for priests who serve the cathedral next door.
Gregory moved into the mansion in January.
"What we didn’t stop to consider, and that oversight rests with me and me alone, was that the world and the Church have changed," Gregory wrote Monday in the archdiocesan newspaper.
The archbishop's apology began by citing an e-mail from a Catholic woman who chided Gregory for failing to follow "the example of a simple life as Pope Francis calls for."
Gregory said he agrees and will consult church leaders about selling the mansion, which sits in Atlanta's upscale Buckhead neighborhood.
“The example of the Holy Father, and the way people of every sector of our society have responded to his message of gentle joy and compassion without pretense has set the bar for every Catholic and even for many who don’t share our communion.”
The archbishop's apology comes just days after the Pope accepted the resignation of Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, also known as the "Bling Bishop," who spent $42 million renovating his residence in Limburg, Germany.
Since his election last year, Francis has repeatedly urged Catholics to focus on income inequality and the suffering of society's marginalized. "Oh, how I would like a poor Church, and for the poor," he has said.
The Pope himself has eschewed many of the trappings of papal life, living in a small apartment in the Vatican guesthouse instead of the sumptuous apartment in the Apostolic Palace and driving a small car instead of a limousine.
Francis' example has put pressure on American bishops to adopt similarly austere lifestyles and emboldened rank-and-file Catholics to call them out if they fall short.
In the past year, Archbishop Jon Myers of Newark, New Jersey, has been criticized for planning $500,000 to outfit his retirement home with a elevator, exercise pool, hot tub and library.
Bishop Dennis Sullivan of Camden, New Jersey was slammed for spending the same amount on a mansion in Woodbury, while presiding over one of the state's poorest cities.
Catholics in Charleston, West Virginia, have written to the Pope's ambassador, asking him to probe construction costs, including $7.5 million spent on the chancery, the diocese's central offices, according to the Charleston Gazette.
In Atlanta, Gregory said he had received "many ... heartfelt, genuine and candidly rebuking" e-mails, phone calls and letters during the past week.
"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," the archbishop said.
Gregory said he will meet later this month with church councils to ask for "candid guidance" on whether to sell the abode, which was built on land donated by Joseph Mitchell, the nephew of "Gone With the Wind Novelist" Margaret Mitchell.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.