It was every inch a breach of public trust. A Catholic Archbishop based in Atlanta is now being hurled with stones after parishioners claimed he used church funds and donations to build a mansion worth a whopping $2.2 million.
Archbishop Wilton Gregory's mansion stretches 6,400 square feet. It includes two dining rooms and a safe room.
Archbishop Gregory was able to construct the Tudor-style mansion because of a large donation received from the estate of Joseph Mitchell, nephew of Margaret Mitchell, author of "Gone With The Wind." Mr Mitchell left an estate worth more than $15 million to the archdiocese upon his death in 2011. His instructions was that it would be used for "general religious and charitable purposes."
But with Pope Francis now at the helm of the 2-billion strong Roman Catholic church, who has since received the responsibility in March 2013 continuously strived to exude simplicity and humility, parishioners now have someone to compare their local church leaders.
"They had an opportunity to be heroes, and I think it's sad they they made a choice that is going to cause a lot of friction," parishioner Marci Maurer-Nunnery told CBS Atlanta.
Archbishop Gregory argued the spending was justified "fiscally, logistically and practically."
However, he admitted he had caused some failures.
"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," he said in a column posted on the Web site of the archdiocesan newspaper, The Georgia Bulletin.
"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," he added.
The $15 million gift from Mr Mitchell was divided into $7.5 million for the building fund of Christ the King Cathedral, $3.75 million to Catholic Charities and other service groups, and several million to disadvantaged parishes, parish endowments, a retirement fund for priests and a Jesuit high school.
With the improvements on the cathedral it was inevitable that Archbishop Gregory would someday need to give up his old residence near it. He decided to build his new residence on the land Mr Mitchell had donated.
The property already had a one-storey home standing but Archbishop Gregory had it demolished for the mansion. The new home had large meeting spaces and rooms for receptions and gatherings.
The new home, located in Buckhead, Atlanta's toniest neighborhood, had the following:
- A second-storey safe room to be protected by two steel doors and furnished with a cot. It wasn't clear why such protection was needed;
- An eight-burner kitchen stove for catering meals;
- An elevator and public and private offices;
- Two dining rooms, including a grand dining room that design plans had exiting out through French-style doors into a courtyard;
- A walk-in closet for liturgical vestments.
Archbishop Gregory's neighbors include several professional athletes, CEOs and musicians.
"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," Archbishop Gregory said.
But the money could have been better spent elsewhere.
"The money could be better spent on parishes that don't have that money, for children who need help going to Catholic schools," Laura Mullins told CBS Atlanta.
"We have to be very careful how we use our money to make sure that it's used in the most purposeful way for the least among us," she added to WXIA.
Archbishop Gregory has since expressed remorse for the lavish spending.
"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," he said.
"I will live wherever my people want me to live," he told WXIA.