It was not just any house. It was a $2.2 million, 6,000-square-foot mansion, with plenty of room to host and entertain, on land bequeathed by Joseph Mitchell, a wealthy nephew of the author of “Gone With the Wind,” Margaret Mitchell.
But as Pope Francis seeks “a church which is poor and for the poor,” expectations for Catholic leaders are changing rapidly. So on Monday night, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory apologized, saying that laypeople had told him they were unhappy with his new house, and promising to seek guidance from priests and laypeople and to follow their advice about whether to sell it.
“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,” he wrote in the archdiocesan newspaper, The Georgia Bulletin. He added, “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.”
The unhappy reaction of local Catholics to the archbishop’s new house in Atlanta is the latest in a series of lay uprisings since the new pope altered the landscape by choosing to live in a modest Vatican residence rather than the opulent apostolic palace, to travel in a Ford Focus and to denounce overspending by church leaders. “It breaks my heart when I see a priest or a nun with the latest model of car,” he said last summer. “Cars are necessary, but take a more humble one. Think of how many children die of hunger.”