I have never been a fan of Archbishop Wilton Gregory, but I appreciate when a man acts like man and says I blew it.
“We are disturbed and disappointed to see our church leaders not setting the example of a simple life as Pope Francis calls for. 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.”
So went just one of many of the heartfelt, genuine and candidly rebuking letters, emails and telephone messages I have received in the past week from people of faith throughout our own Archdiocese and beyond. Their passionate indictments of me as a Bishop of the Catholic Church and as an example to them and their children are stinging and sincere. And I should have seen them coming.
Please understand that I had no desire to move; however, the Cathedral Parish has a problem, albeit a happy one. The Cathedral of Christ the King is one of our largest, most vibrant and fastest growing parishes—but it is landlocked. The site of the current rectory could be used for expansion if the priests could be moved to a new rectory nearby. Because of the proximity of the Archbishop’s house to the Cathedral and the way it is configured with separate apartments and common space, the rector of Christ the King one day summoned the courage to ask me if I would give some thought to letting the parish purchase the residence from the Archdiocese to repurpose it for its rectory. 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.
Soon thereafter, the Archdiocese and the Cathedral Parish received a generous bequest from Joseph Mitchell, including his home on Habersham Road, to benefit the whole archdiocese, but especially his beloved parish, the Cathedral of Christ the King. Through the extraordinary kindness of Joseph Mitchell, we had a perfect piece of property nearby on which to relocate the Archbishop’s residence.
Some have suggested that it would have been appropriate for the Cathedral Parish to build a rectory on the Habersham property and have the priests each drive back and forth, and in retrospect that might be true. At the time, though, I thought that not giving up the Archbishop’s residence, which was so close to the Cathedral Parish, would have been perceived as selfish and arrogant by the people at the Cathedral Parish and might damage my relationship with them!
So I agreed to sell the West Wesley residence to the Cathedral Parish and set about looking for a different place for me and my successors to live. That’s when, to say the least, I took my eye off the ball. The plan seemed very simple. We will build here what we had there—separate living quarters and common spaces, a large kitchen for catering, and lots of room for receptions and other gatherings.
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.
Even before the phenomenon we have come to know as Pope Francis was elected to the Chair of Peter, we Bishops of the Church were reminded by our own failings and frailty that we are called to live more simply, more humbly, and more like Jesus Christ who challenges us to be in the world and not of the world. 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.
As the Shepherd of this local Church, a responsibility I hold more dear than any other, certainly more than any configuration of brick and mortar, 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.
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.
I failed to consider the difficult position in which I placed my auxiliary bishops, priests, deacons and staff who have to try to respond to inquiries from the faithful about recent media reports when they might not be sure what to believe themselves.
I failed to consider the example I was setting for the young sons of the mother who sent the email message with which I began this column.
To all of you, I apologize sincerely and from my heart.
April 1, 2014 at 8:32 am
Impressive, though still kind of missing the point. Ever wonder about the residence of Bishop Bernard Fellay?
April 1, 2014 at 12:35 pm
Vibrant. What does he mean by vibrant? Does one want to be vibrant?
April 1, 2014 at 1:35 pm
So, is he going to abandon this white elephant, or is his 'I'm sorry' just a bandage to cover the hurt he has caused?
April 1, 2014 at 1:43 pm
It's a solid apology – now let's see what comes of it
April 1, 2014 at 8:35 pm
Did he form a catering Company to go with the Catering size Kitchen>
April 1, 2014 at 9:02 pm
One does feel though a bit dubious about a 14yo and an 18yo boy pondering the "message" the Archbishop is sending and cannot "understand" it. I smell a slight whiff of brie and white wine. 😉 emanating from that family. One hopes they are as concerned about the prevalence of vulgarity, obscenity, and sexual license among their age group's culture as well.
However, Archbishop Gregory did admit a mistake. But, what comes next?
April 1, 2014 at 11:21 pm
He is so magnificently good at publicly feeling bad. He could give lessons on spinning that would make the current administration green with envy. He is every bit the deceptive, loathsome excuse-making liar he was 12 years ago.
April 1, 2014 at 11:32 pm
I disagree entirely, and I am on the ground here.
There was a lady on the radio this afternoon claiming to be a member of Cathedral parish for 35 years, and still lighting into the archbishop tooth and nail. She sounds very vindictive, and also like she hasn't got a clue.
The problem that the archdiocese faces is that the Cathedral property was acquired and the Cathedral built in the 1930s, when you could fit all the Catholics in north Georgia into a tractor shed. It is in the heart of Buckhead (very pricey area) and completely hemmed in on all sides by expensive residential property – nothing of any size in the area can be had for less than around a million. Probably some houses on the Cathedral side of Peachtree Rd. are less expensive than on the Habersham side, but they are much smaller – basically 2 or 3 BR bungalows. You can still expect to pay anything from around $800K on the bottom end to $2M on the top end.
Given the number of visiting priests and dignitaries that the archbishop entertains, it makes no sense for him to be living in a 2 or 3 BR house and renting a conference room at one of the hotels in the area, when a larger nearby home dropped into his lap for free, thanks to the nephew of Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell. The reality is that nothing nearby is going to be significantly cheaper, particularly once you add in the iffy real estate market and the agent's commission.
I think the archbishop was blindsided by this all out attack. But all the grovelling the archbishop can put together is not going to change her opinion an iota.
April 2, 2014 at 2:57 am
I'm a local as well… Local Yokel, you are spot on with your assessment. It's a shame that one person with an axe to grind can create such a controversy. The plans were publically announced over two years ago and are fiscally responsible when you look at the area where CTK is located…
April 2, 2014 at 3:01 am
How much money does this Archbishop raise for his flock who are less fortunate and served by Catholic Social Service agencies in the destitute areas of this huge city? And how much is he raising for the Catholic schools and need based scholarships for the poor families who want a Catholic education for their children. And the Catholic hospitals servng approx 20% of Atlanta. What are your metrics to raise $1? This wouldnt even be an issue if his Eminence's fundraisers had the sense enough to issue a standard reply that it takes money to raise money. This current pope has a humongous staff to raise $$$$ for the Vatican. Don't buy into all the crap you read in the papers about Francis's vow of poverty and driving a beater.
April 2, 2014 at 3:14 am
This apology seems so ludicrous I thought it was an April Fool joke.
April 4, 2014 at 4:56 am
My question is, did the rectory not already belong to the Archdiocese–why did it have to be bought? Also, I feel certain that the home on the property donated to the Archdiocese must have been very large and upscale based upon the address and the neighborhood in which it was located. A man of God who is living his life of service to the flock should not have to be " taught " to be prudent with Church money. Maybe, the recent reprimand for other Bishops by Pope Francis woke up Archbishop Gregory in light that he has aspirations to become a cardinal. We faithful are being prompted and prodded and made to feel guilty for not contributing to the Archbishop's annual appeal in an effort to take care of the poor—yet the Archbishop saw no need to support the poor when he had a mansion in the works. A simple home would have been one story but this mansion tells it all. Certainly this man talking the talk but not walking the walk.. Reminds me of Obama– taking care of the poor is on the backs of everyone but him. Do not feel that this apology is because the Archbishop suddenly realized he was out of line, but rather a response to people who faced him with the outlandish spending and his fear that the Pope will home in on his behavior and he will loose his chance at Cardinalship.
April 4, 2014 at 3:13 pm
You realize arch-bishops are expected to host dignitaries and many guests, right?
April 5, 2014 at 6:42 pm
I have a difficult time accepting His Excellency's sincere and heartfelt apology. He says he did not stop to consider that the "world and the Church have changed" That happened to have occurred on February 13, 2013 when Pope Francis was installed.
Admitting to a failure to consider the various factors which are directly and indirectly related to his lapse in judgement here are fine.
My issue is that with the generous financial gift of the magnitude of the Mitchell bequest, good judgement should have dictated that even the initial thought of spending $2+ million on a residence be questioned and then summarily rejected.
I get the need for the the head of North and Central Georgia's Catholics to have a suitable residence to entertain visiting dignitaries, however It is very difficult to believe that there were no acceptable residences to suit his needs,for say…$1 million?
Clearly, the excess funds could have put to a more beneficial use and maybe lighten the load a bit on the congregation. After all even though many of us support the Church in different ways, most of us still have our daily financial issues to deal with.