Photo: Catholic News Agency
How dare the leader of the Atlanta Catholic church purchase a residence costing $2.2 Million dollars in the posh enclave of Buckhead. Is Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory not aware of the world we live in today consisting of poverty, high unemployment and homelessness? I thought those within the church took a vow of poverty; so, why would he need a 6,000 square foot residence? These are just a few of the questions being printed and circulated in relation to the purchase of this “infamous” residence located on Habersham Road. Because of this outrageous act, we need to look deeper into the Catholic religion and more importantly, their financial acquisition of property for their clergy. Archbishop Gregory purchased this home in spite of Pope Francis’ promotion of a lifestyle that is simple. Unfortunately, many citizens do not want to look at the business aspect of this highly “powerful” religion.
There is an order within the Catholic Church that will not be disregarded nor trampled upon. Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory’s purchase of this home is not his first questionable act. In January, he moved into a newly built home and published a column on January 9th discussing the move. There was an unfavorable sentiment from a very small number of Atlanta parishes, but nothing major developed. The relocation to Habersham Road was not initiated by the Archbishop from his previous residence on West Wesley Road near the Cathedral of Christ the King. The home, built around 1920 and purchased by the archdiocese in 1966, was the residence of the archbishops of Atlanta since the tenure of Archbishop Hallinan. He agreed to allow the Cathedral parish to purchase the home so it could be used as a rectory for the priests of the Cathedral. According to the Georgia Bulletin April, 3 2014 edition, Archbishop Gregory stated that “It made more sense for them to be in walking distance to the Cathedral than I, so I said yes, knowing full well that literally left the Archbishop without a place to live.”
After this agreement to move, there was an unexpected bequest from the Joseph Mitchell estate in the amount of $15 million in liquid assets who is nephew of Gone with the Wind author, Margaret Mitchell. This gift allowed the Cathedral to purchase the West Wesley house and make room for plans for a replacement residence. Part of the bequest was Joseph Mitchell’s home on Habersham Road, which is a mile away from the existing residence. Archbishop Gregory stated that through the extraordinary kindness of the Mitchell estate, that this was a great piece of property on which to relocate his residence. He felt he took his eye off the ball, but the plan appeared very simple. The project was followed carefully by an oversight committee that included members from several parishes. The 6,000 square feet costs $2.2 million; $1.9 million comes from the purchase of the previous residence by the Cathedral. Also, an additional $300,000 is attributable to making the residence fully handicap accessible, which is a vital commitment of the committee overseeing the project.
Kieran Quinn, chairman of the Finance Council for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, stated that the new residence is “the home we provide for the archbishop of Atlanta and his successors.” He noted that the residence is an asset of the archdiocese. The Finance Council, a consultative body, reviewed the budget to ensure the project was within capital reserves of the archdiocese. Archbishop Gregory also advised the Council of Priests,’ which consist of over 30 priest that were invited to raise questions and to comment. There was not a great deal of discussion of the matter and all decided to move forward as planned. The appropriate consultative groups were advised and approved the financial purchase. This same house would also be used for a wide range of gatherings, such as hosting seminarians and their families, permanent deacons and their wives, Atlanta Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women and a host of other groups. Ultimately, this was an investment made by the Archdiocese that will result in a great return of investment; thus making it strictly a business decision.
Does race have anything at all to do with the initial uproar and national media attention this story has received? Or, maybe the bigger question is that when is race not a factor in national headline making stories? There are Archbishops nationwide, within the church, who live in residences that are posh and extravagant. However, this fact does not make Gregory’s decision right. However, this lifestyle, for some, is both a reality and a want. Pope Francis has turned not only the Catholic Church upside down, but the world with his vision and practice of simplicity because many do not understand that lavish things are not “needed” in life. Archbishop Gregory has apologized profusely and decided to sale the $2.2 million dollar home and invest the proceeds to the needs of the Catholic community. We can all learn a lesson from this experience and understand the perception opulence.