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Archbishop Gregory apologizes.

Last week I pointed out that Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta had recently moved into a $2.2-million, 6,200-square-foot home--an expense made possible by a $15-million bequest. Gregory had been living at the cathedral rectory, but apparently that parish is growing rapidly. The rector of the cathedral asked Gregory whether the parish could purchase the property from the archdiocese, and Gregory agreed. That's why he built the new residence. But in January, Gregory met with parishioners who weren't happy with that plan. They wanted him to sell the new building, move into the old one, and use the money to help the poor.

In an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this month, Gregory and McNamee said the expenditures were necessary for their living arrangements and that it was too late to reverse course. They also noted the plans had been approved by governing bodies within their respective institutions.

“To undo what has been publicly announced for two years wouldn’t be a prudent use of archdiocese resources,” Gregory said.

Gregory also said he thinks the new home would have the pope’s blessing.

“He wants his bishops to engage with his people,” said Gregory, who was installed as archbishop in Atlanta in 2005. His new home, he said, allows for larger groups to visit; the grounds also are good for cookouts and other outdoor activities. In this way, said Gregory, he can follow the pope’s admonition to “smell like the flock” — to be close to parishioners.

“It’s important for me to connect,” he said. “And that’s another dominant theme for Pope Francis.”

The archbishop has had a change of heart. Yesterday he issued a long, remarkably candid apology, leading with a tough letter he received from a parishioner. “We are disturbed and disappointed to see our church leaders not setting the example of a simple life as Pope Francis calls for," she wrote.

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.

Gregory responds:

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.

Read the rest right here.

About the Author

Grant Gallicho is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.



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It is amazing how the desire for a red hat can bring about conversion.

Good to see and, I am sure, apology extended and accepted by the people.


Hard to justify 6200 square foot home for one person (two at most!).

I don't understand the logic that led to the original idea. Meeting and cookouts, etc. should occur on community space. So if you are going to build an area, build in off the parish or off the pastoral centre grounds. That way anybody from any group in the area can book the space.

But this was his private home. Unless he wants his private home to be a community space ?? Obviously he is entitled to his privacy.

But, I don't know...simple living is not much of a sacrifice for me as I was never drawn to suburbia, big homes, nice cars, etc. in the first place so don't understand the draw.

Worthwhile to erad the whole statement to see his plans for the future... a remarkable document, really... deserves real credit for contrition and change of plans

I'm confused. I just read his letter. He apologizes, but it doesn't say his house plans have changed.

"Going forward" he promises to listen more. Have I missed something? What about the mansion? 

Oh, I see. If it's the will of his board, he'll sell it. Sorry for the comment above.

So, we'll see. The decision has been passed to another body.

Not decided yet, in other words. 

When the parish I used to belong to went almost bankrupt, they sold the newly renovated housing quarters, and the next parish administrator moved into what had been the old rectory, which by then had been changed to a community space. His room was somewhere in the upper parts of the house, but his kitchen was part of the community space. He was a gregarious guy and seemed to enjoy the proximity. When we walked in before a choir rehearsal, if he happened to be eating he would invite us to share his breakfast. In that case he wasn't taking on the smell of his sheep, but instead we were taking on the smell of the pastor!


Trinity Church (Episcopal) in Boston went through this same discussion in February, when the vestry bought a $3.6 million condo on Beacon Hill as the Rectory - to replace the Rectory attached to the church which had been converted to office space. 

Trinity Church’s purchase of a $3.6 million Beacon Hill condo to house its rector is sparking dissension among some members of the landmark Episcopal congregation, with a few even asking if the church could resell the property.

Some say they feel the new rectory, where the Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III now lives, feeds the perception that Trinity is a bastion of privilege and obscures the congregation’s significant contributions to the city’s less fortunate. Others say the problem goes deeper than optics, maintaining that the purchase is a departure from the Christian ethic of standing in solidarity with the poor and marginalized.

“I thought it sent a very bad message about our values,” said Gary Sandison, a longtime congregant and former member of the vestry, the council elected by the congregation to make decisions for the church. “It pained me deeply because I know Trinity . . . is doing wonderful things in the city.”

About 100 of the church’s 2,000 or so active participants attended a conversation about the purchase with church leaders on Sunday. A second meeting is scheduled for Feb. 26....

“I thought Trinity was so sensitive to our relative privilege in comparison to the lack thereof of the people that we help, and it’s a really insensitive act to have bought a $3.6 million rectory in Beacon Hill,” she said. “So that was sort of a betrayal. It puts us in the position of one who treats business decisions and living in the lap of luxury above . . . putting that money somewhere else or living in modesty....”

The Beacon Hill property is a refurbished 3,100-square-foot, two-level condo in a three-unit brick row house on Chestnut Street, about a block from Boston Common. Amenities include a two-car garage, a pantry with a wine cellar, an outdoor courtyard, and a guest cottage.

Because much of the rectory’s cost was covered by Trinity’s $30 million endowment, Lawrence and Smith said, the purchase had little effect on the church’s operating budget and no impact on its work for the poor....

Lloyd, who lived in the old rectory for 11 years before leaving for a six-year stint as dean of the Washington National Cathedral, returned to Trinity in 2011. Until last month, he and his wife, who have two grown children, had been living in a church-subsidized rental in the Back Bay. The vestry felt Lloyd needed a permanent place to live within walking distance of the church, and one large enough to accommodate church dinners, meetings, and other gatherings....

Louise Burnham Packard, executive director of the Trinity Boston Foundation, said she was glad the discussion had prompted the congregation to ponder how it could contribute even more to the community and also contemplate a fundamental question in their own lives: “How much is enough?

“If this building purchase could prompt us all to take that question to whatever the next level is for each of us, what a remarkable thing,” she said.


Impressive - reminds me of back in 2002 when Gregory led the abuse charter efforts.  He was inspired by a personal letter to him from his chancellor (a married father with children and his views on the issue -

Have posted on this before but have noticed a pattern among some US bishops who have shifted practice and seek *desirable, upper middle class to expensive* settings and justify this using the excuse that they need to appeal to big donors in a *proper setting*.  The current Dallas bishop, Kevin Farrell, who has been leading the USCCB fundraising committee for years, is a big proponent of this drive.

What amazes me is that the counter example of living with the poor (e.g. inner city rectory or in a seminary setting) carries a powerful message.  Why is this dismissed?  Rather, the use of *big business* methods; marketing approaches; appeal to the rich trump the gospel imperatives and a church of and for the poor?  It's as if the examples of Vincent dePaul, Francis of Asissi, Jesuit missionaries have no value and yet think about the immense outpouring from everyday folks who are inspired by these historical examples.  Truism - if you give it away, it comes back to you in multiples. 

Bravo, attaboy and awesome, dude.

Bill - I agree entirely.

Rita - "The decision has been passed to another body" - I'm not sure that's quite right or gives the full picture.  Here is what he writes:

There are structures already in place in the Archdiocese from which I am able to access the collective wisdom of our laity and our clergy.In April I will meet with the Archdiocesan Council of Priests, and in early May our Archdiocesan Pastoral Council (a multi-cultural group of Catholics of all ages, representing parishes of all sizes, who serve as a consultative body to me) will convene. I will ask for the Finance Council of the Archdiocese to schedule an extraordinary meeting.

So another way we could interpret this is: he is engaging his clergy in decisionmaking (collegiality); he is engaging the laity of the archdiocese in decisionmaking (collaboration); these advisory and consultative groups are to be more than rubber stamps for whatever he wants; he is recognizing that the archbishop's residence is not just a personal decision, it is an *archdiocesan* decision (utilizing archdiocesan funds) and so it is right and proper that the archdiocese as a whole should participate in the decisionmaking.

Isn't this what Commonweal Catholics want from their bishops?  

It would have been even more admirable if Gregory had taken this approach from the beginning.  But how many times have we seen defensiveness, stonewalling, excuse-making from bishops, with no change of heart and no change in behavior.  That Gregory is exhibiting a change of heart and behavior is something.  That he listened and took to heart the feedback from his people is something.


What amazes me is that the counter example of living with the poor (e.g. inner city rectory or in a seminary setting) carries a powerful message.  Why is this dismissed? 

Cardinal O'Malley sold the 1920's mansion Cardinal O'Connell had built in Brighton, and moved into the Cathedral rectory in the South End of Boston. Doesn't seem to have hurt his fundraising. 

Is this an April Fool's joke?

I would say that it is most appropriate that this wonderful revelation of unbridled excess is revealed to the USA RCC masses (small "m") on April 1, 2014.  Of course, the question is:  Do we have just one FOOL or many fools?

BLING in the North........Archbishop Myers in Newark, NJ


BLING in the South......Archbishop Gregory in Atlanta

It's all part of the leadership training in "hubris" that is part of their advancement.

I'm no fan of the bishops' decison making in their esidences and think what he did was stupid and more, but I'll hope that this collaboration and cionsultation will yield some real dialogue and change in his and diocesan decision making.

In our little old and relatively inexpensive city, the bishop's residence is across from the chancery (nicely appointed, I hear, and some excess) and the retired bishop retfro fit the catheral convent  - once held 16 nuns- (rumor says for $500,00!) a few years ago... so even inner city doesn't guaratee simplicity...

John - agree and think O'Malley would have done that any way.  Unfortunately, it was linked to Law and the abuse settlement payouts. 

The ongoing joke - he sold it to the Jesuits.

The ongoing joke - he sold it to the Jesuits.

Actually, Boston College, which has a lay board - like most Jesuit colleges these days, I gather. Most of the money (close to $100 million, as I recall) was for the land, which they wanted for campus expansion. 

Part of the deal was that the archdiocese would remove Cardinal O'Connell's body from the premises (he was entombed in a free-standing chapel). That dragged on in court because his family wouldn't agree. Eventually, he was buried on the grounds of an upscale Catholic boy's school. 

It is really historic that Bishops are finally acknowledging that their lifestyle does not square with the Master's teaching. And that they are admitting that they have had no sympathy for their parishioners who work to pay mortgages and other pressing bills. Finally, Catholics , with the help of Francis, are growing up and demanding of leaders that they measure up to the Lord who had no home of his own. 

What is important here is that the LAITY caused this to happen.

What is sad here is that the LAITY had to cause this to happen.

Let's be honest here:  Hierarchical ontology --- aka, the ecclesial pecking order --- more than justifies a mansion for those who exercise ecclesial governance over everybody else.  I mean, Would it do for a hierarch to try to reside in a parsonage or shotgun house?  

All seriousness aside, I hope the AB will let his advisors et al know that he would feel perfectly comfortable living in "ordinary" comfort like most of the rest of us.  No squalor, of course, but no excess, either.

AB Gregory made a wise move in apologizing to his people for this failure.  At least the man demonstrated remorse, which is more than we've come to expect from many of his fellow arch/bishops.

May he live up to what the local church expects of him.

JJ = can think of some pretty expensive *shotgun houses* in the Garden District of New Orleans.

Thank you, Alan MItchell: "It is amazing how the desire for a red hat can bring about conversion." LOL.

Thank you, Bill Mazzella: "It is really historic that Bishops are finally acknowledging that their lifestyle does not square with the Master's teaching." Enlightenment, maybe?

Gregory's apology may be half-strategic and half-contritional, but let's not reject wisdom even if late.

I remember that powerful letter from the father to Gregory, but it did not seem to have lasting impact. Gregory catches the PR moment perfectly, but let's see the long-term impact. His statement years ago to the effect that "it's history" is seriously contradicted by the records of bishops. 

See below for the latest on USCCB audits, which are self-reviews, not audits, even according to William Gavin, who did the audits through 2009: . "It was an audit in quotes...I think it was more of a program review than anything else."

I"m sure that the word "Chicago" has weighed on his mind since this all came to light.

For whatever reason, this story has been prominently reported in the Chicago media - it was a feature segment on the local news station we watched last night, and it made our local newspaper, too.  Must be a slow news day.


If anyone is still looking at this topic - my wife showed me a story over the weekend that Gregory is selling the retirement home.


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