Archbishop of Atlanta to sell $2m mansion after campaign by angry parishioners

He will leave his $2.2 million mansion in early May

The Roman Catholic Bishop of the US city of Atlanta has agreed to sell his $2.2 million mansion three months after he began living in it, in an attempt to appease angry parishioners.

Archbishop Wilton Gregory made the announcement after he met with several church councils at his headquarters. 

Earlier in April, he apologised for building the mock-Tudor home, and said he plans to move out in early May.

“I have decided to sell the Habersham property and invest the proceeds from that sale into the needs of the Catholic community,”  Gregory told reporters after the meeting. He declined to take questions.

A group in Gregory’s diocese had been campaigning for the sale of his 6,000 square-foot (560 square-metre) residence since January, and called on the the Bishop to adopt a more austere lifestyle like that of Pope Francis.

He was given the land where he built his mansion, as well as $15 million, by Joseph Mitchell, the nephew of the Gone with the Wind novelist Margaret Mitchell. Mr Mitchell stipulated the gift should go to “general religious and charitable purposes,” according to NBC

But his parishioners were dissatisfied that while 25 per cent of the money went to charity, the archdiocese kept 25 per cent of the cash.

The financial council of the archdiocese maintains the plan was approved at the highest level, and vetted by the council of Priests, according to the US TV network.

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The home of Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory

A spokeswoman for the Archbishop said that Gregory only lives in a small part of the home upstairs.

Gregory has already sold a his previous home to Christ the King Cathedral in the city of Atlanta. The Cathedral's staff plan to expand it and house its priests there.

Laura Mullins, one of several Catholics who asked Gregory to sell the mansion, praised the archbishop for making a quick decision and ending the controversy.

"He is the person we follow locally," she said. "He sets the mood. He sets the example for all of us to follow. If he is choosing to use a gift so personally, what does that tell the people sitting in the pews?"

Gregory thanked parishioners for raising the issue, and acknowledged earlier this week the importance of Francis' example.

Since being given his post last year, Pope Francis has made efforts to present a frugal image, including ditching his predecessor's bullet-proof Popemobile, and living in a guest house instead of the Vatican palace.

“He's called us to live more simply,” Gregory said in an interview Wednesday, prior to announcing the decision to sell the residence.

“He also has encouraged bishops to grow closer to their people, to listen to their people. And that, I take as a pretty serious admonition. I'm disappointed in myself because in my nine years, I do believe that I've grown very close to the people of the archdiocese. And I think this decision is an aberration rather than a pattern.”

Even before the new pope's election, top-ranking Catholics were selling off luxurious homes, most built decades or a century ago by their predecessors seeking to demonstrate that Catholic church is becoming more frugal.

Additional reporting AP

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