ATLANTA - After coming under sharp criticism and issuing an apology earlier this week, the Archbishop of Atlanta announced Saturday that he would vacate his $2.2 million mansion in early May.
The decision came after a meeting with members of several church councils and parishioners in Archbishop Wilton Gregory's headquarters north of Atlanta.
"I want to thank those parishioners whose prayers, counsel and concern brought this issue to light and ensured that their Archbishop was properly attuned to the important symbolism of simple actions and the challenges faced by many of the faithful in the Archdiocese of Atlanta," Gregory said in a statement.
There were nearly 60 people present at the closed-door meeting, said Pat Chivers, communications director for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. They included members of the Archdiocesan Pastoral and Finance Council, the Council of Priests and parishioners of differing points of view,
"He listened to everyone's concern ... there is tremendous love and respect for Archbishop Gregory, and support for his decision to move forward," Chivers said.
Gregory moved into the 6,000-square-foot home in Atlanta's upscale Buckhead neighborhood in January. It was built on land donated by Joseph Mitchell, nephew of "Gone With the Wind" novelist Margaret Mitchell.
The property will be sold and the proceeds invested in the needs of the Catholic community, according to the statement. The archbishop will move into another available Archdiocesan property.
Earlier this week, Gregory publicly apologized for building the mansion.
"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," Gregory wrote Monday in the archdiocesan newspaper.
The archbishop's apology came just days after the Pope accepted the resignation of Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, also known as the "Bling Bishop," who spent $42 million renovating his residence in Limburg, Germany.
Since his election last year, Francis has repeatedly urged Catholics to focus on income inequality and the suffering of society's marginalized. "Oh, how I would like a poor Church, and for the poor," he has said.
The Pope himself has eschewed many of the trappings of papal life, living in a small apartment in the Vatican guesthouse instead of the sumptuous apartment in the Apostolic Palace, and traveling in a small car instead of a limousine.
Francis' example has put pressure on American bishops to adopt similarly austere lifestyles, and it has emboldened rank-and-file Catholics to call them out if they fall short.
In the past year, Archbishop Jon Myers of Newark, New Jersey, has been criticized for planning $500,000 to outfit his retirement home with a elevator, exercise pool, hot tub and library.
Bishop Dennis Sullivan of Camden, New Jersey, was slammed for spending the same amount on a mansion in the suburb of Woodbury while presiding over one of the state's poorest cities.
Catholics in Charleston, West Virginia, have written to the Pope's ambassador, asking him to probe construction costs, including $7.5 million spent on the chancery, the diocese's central offices, according to the Charleston Gazette.
In Atlanta, Gregory said he had received "many ... heartfelt, genuine and candidly rebuking" e-mails, phone calls and letters during the past week.
"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," the archbishop said.