VATICAN CITY — Days after Pope Francis summoned a controversial German bishop for talks on his luxurious lifestyle, the Vatican is facing an embarrassing new scandal about the lavish spending of Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory.
Gregory on Monday (March 31) apologized for a lapse in judgment after he built a plush $2.2 million mansion for himself in the heart of Atlanta’s upscale Buckhead district.
His extravagant investment has provoked an outcry from some local Catholics, forcing the 66-year-old archbishop to “apologize sincerely and from my heart” in a statement published in The Georgia Bulletin, a Catholic newspaper.
“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,” the archbishop said.
“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.”
On Tuesday, Vatican officials declined to comment on Gregory’s house, but the episode is particularly embarrassing since Francis met with German Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst behind closed doors at the Vatican last Friday.
The German, dubbed “Bishop Bling” by his critics and the media, was removed from his official position after spending $43 million of church funds on a luxury residence.
It is unclear whether the Vatican will consider similar action against Gregory, who led the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops through the clergy sex abuse scandal a year ago. But since his election a year ago, Francis has been urging Catholic clergy to set an example and to adopt a more austere approach.
The pope himself rejected the Vatican’s ornate papal apartments for more simple lodging in the Santa Marta residence behind St. Peter’s Basilica and chose a humble Ford Focus for his official vehicle.
Construction of Gregory’s new 6,000-square-foot home was funded by money left by parishioner Joseph Mitchell, nephew of “Gone With the Wind” author Margaret Mitchell, when he died in 2011.
Mitchell left $15 million and his home to his local parish and the archdiocese and asked that his endowment be used for charity.
Gregory said he had received many “heartfelt, genuine and candidly rebuking” telephone calls, letters and emails for what he had done and published one atop his apology: “We are disturbed and disappointed to see our church leaders not setting the example of a simple life as Pope Francis calls for,” read the anonymous complaint.
The archbishop’s personal apology came as he appeals on his own archdiocese website for donations to the church’s 2014 annual appeal beneath the headline, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Gregory said he would consider putting the new home on the market to ease parishioners’ concerns, but has not made a final decision.
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