Jesus spoke of "many mansions" in "my Father's house" in John 14:2, but today's clerics are finding out that building a bling-bedecked home on Earth has its consequences.
"Bowing to critics, the Archbishop of Atlanta on (Monday) apologized for a lapse in judgment that made him proceed with a new, $2.2 million home for himself and said he may sell his Buckhead (neighborhood) mansion if clerical bodies within the church recommend he do so," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported concerning Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who heads the Roman Catholic diocese there.
Writing in the Georgia Bulletin, the church's newspaper, Gregory said his intentions were good: giving up a residence close to the Cathedral of Christ the King so pastors there could have a larger rectory while building a new, matching residence and place for public functions, thanks to a bequest from a nephew of the late author Margaret Mitchell.
"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," Gregory wrote. "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."
However, he added, "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." As a result, Gregory said church advisors will review the original plan and, if deemed necessary, sell the donated mansion and then "purchase or rent something appropriate elsewhere."
According to Religion News Service, the timing of Gregory's actions is a bit awkward. "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."
Such bouts of austerity — inspired in whole or in part by the low-key approach of Pope Francis — apparently haven't struck all Catholic parishes equally, media reports indicate. Newark, N.J., Archbishop John J. Myers is building a 3,000 square-foot addition to the 4,500 square-foot rural home he uses in Franklin Township, presumably in anticipation of living there full time in retirement, according to the Newark Star-Ledger, which broke the story in February.
"Construction is progressing as Myers asks the 1.3 million Roman Catholics of the archdiocese to open their wallets for the 'archbishop’s annual appeal,' a fundraising effort that supports an array of initiatives, including religious education, the training of future priests and feeding the poor," the paper reported.
One month earlier, Bishop Dennis Sullivan of the Diocese of Camden, N.J., came under fire for the acquisition of a $500,000 mansion while serving an economically challenged region.
"Catholics in South Jersey were quick to point out Jesus was born in a manger — not a mansion — after news broke that the Diocese of Camden has plunked down a half-million dollars for Bishop Dennis Sullivan’s new digs in Woodbury," the Camden Courier-Post reported. "The 7,000 square-foot mansion previously was the residence of former Rowan University president Donald Farish."
But as David Gibson of Religion News Service points out, "Catholics aren’t the only ones feeling the heat. Trinity Church in Boston, an Episcopal congregation with a blue-blood heritage and an extensive ministry to the poor, sparked controversy in February for purchasing a $3.6 million Beacon Hill condo for its rector, the Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III. The church says the outlay is a good investment and won’t dent its $30 million endowment, but some in the pews aren’t happy."
And Southern Baptist pastor Steven Furtick of Elevation Church in Charlotte, N.C., came under fire last fall for building "a 16,000 square foot gated estate on a large wooded lot in Waxhaw," according to the Charlotte Observer. The property was assessed at $1.6 million, although an Elevation Church spokesman told the newspaper Furtick bought the land for $325,000.