U.S. News

04.01.14

Big Spending Bishops Cower Under Their Cloaks

Atlanta’s Archbishop is the latest member of the clergy to come under fire and apologize for extravagant spending.

Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta is really sorry that he used money donated to his parish by the nephew of Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell to build himself a $2.2 million house.

“I am disappointed that, while my advisors and I were able to justify this project fiscally, logistically and practically, I personally failed to project the cost in terms of my own integrity and pastoral credibility with the people of God of north and central Georgia,” Gregory wrote in the Georgia Bulletin, a Catholic newspaper. 

The Archbishop was finally responding to weeks of backlash following an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article that illuminated—and called into question—the parish’s spending.

“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 service,” he wrote.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Joseph Mitchell, heir to the Gone With the Wind fortune, was a parishioner at Atlanta’s Cathedral of Christ the King. When he died in 2011, Mitchell left $15 million and his house to the parish and the archdiocese, a hefty endowment that he explicitly intended to be used for charity and the betterment of his parish. Mitchell’s home, however, was knocked down earlier this year by the archdiocese and a 6,195-square-foot structure was constructed in its place, the property, building and renovation costs adding up to $2.2 million. Gregory initially occupied this house, but moved out last month to make room for Monsignor Rector Frank McNamee, the pastor at Christ the King, and six other priests. He relocated to another house constructed especially for him with $2.2 million more of Mitchell’s money.

Gregory’s apology comes one week after Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, the German bishop affectionately known as the “Bling Bishop” was removed from his post by Pope Francis himself following a Vatican inquiry into Tabartz-van Elst’s lavish spending. The Bling Bishop earned his nickname when it was reported that he’d spent 31 million-euro ($43 million) on a new residence complex. And in February, Newark Archbishop John J. Myers came under fire for his plans to add an addition to his archdiocese-owned house that would include an indoor exercise pool, three fireplaces, a library, a hot tub, and elevator at the price of $500,000—not including furniture.

“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 service.”

Gregory shared one of the many emails he received from angered parishioners at the top of his apology post in the Georgia Bulletin. 

“We are disturbed and disappointed to see our church leaders not setting the example of a simple life as Pope Francis calls for,” the email reads. “How can we instill this in our children when they see their archdiocesan leadership living extravagantly? We ask you to rethink these decisions and understand the role model the clergy must serve so the youth of our society can answer Jesus’ call. Neither our 18-or 14-year-old sons understand the message you are portraying.”

As for the sincerely sorry Archbishop’s accommodations, Gregory wrote that he will sell his mansion and “look to purchase or rent something appropriate elsewhere”—if the church’s finance council says he has to, of course.