Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

Kudos to Archbishop Gregory; he 'gets it'

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Apr 01, 2014

Hats off to Archbishop Wilton Gregory for making a simple, sincere, manful apology when he realized that he had caused scandal by spending over $2 million on a new residence.

The archbishop could have attacked his critics, saying that the complaints about his building plans were motivated by anti-Catholic bigotry. He could have tried to rationalize the plans, claiming that every expense was necessary for the work of the archdiocese. He could have argued that the expenses were covered by private donations and would not affect the archdiocesan budget. Or he could have stood on his authority, saying that he has the legal authority to spend funds as he sees fit. Sad to say, American bishops have used each one of these dodges to justify their spending in other cases.

What Archbishop Gregory did instead was refreshing, even edifying. He said that he was wrong. He recognized that the criticisms he had received were “stinging and sincere.” He acknowledged that “I should have seen them coming.”

With this apology, Archbishop Gregory has silenced all but his harshest critics. How can you remain indignant at a man who so fully admits that he was wrong?

Yes, he was wrong. The archbishop sees that now. But to be fair, it’s very easy for American bishops to embark on big-spending projects. They are surrounded by people who are anxious to win their approval, and therefore disposed to support their plans. Their financial advisers are usually wealthy donors, who live in their own very comfortable homes, and are unlikely to be shocked by the price tag on the bishop’s residence. But the price is shocking to the thousands of working-class Catholics who are struggling to keep up with their monthly bills.

In the past the Catholic faithful rarely questioned their prelates’ spending. Maybe it was even a source of pride for poor immigrant Catholics to see the bishop living in a palatial residence. No longer. The Catholic hierarchy, struggling to regain public trust after a very bad decade, can no longer afford to live in regal style. Pope Francis has helped to set a new tone with his battered suitcase and his little sedan. He sent a strong message, too, by removing the notorious “bling bishop” from office in Limburg, Germany. Today’s Church needs bishops who are leaders in service, not in style.

Archbishop Gregory saw—a bit late, but better late than never—that “the world and the Church have changed.” Let’s hope that his brother bishops with their own big-spending plans will see as well.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: wsw33410 - Jul. 19, 2017 6:19 PM ET USA

    Thank you Thomas for your commentary (recently, however, lost my heart for Coen brothers productions); if I may, I would recommend two exceptional 'Christian' movies: OSTROV/THE ISLAND (2006-RU) – dir. Pavel Lungin, and ORDET/THE WORD (1955-DEN) - Director Carl Theodor Dreyer ... both available -FREE- on YOUTUBE

  • Posted by: susana8577 - Jul. 19, 2017 1:50 PM ET USA

    New Agers, feminists & witches love [St.] Joan of Arc! That's probably why they are doing operas about her.

  • Posted by: hartwood01 - Apr. 03, 2014 8:14 AM ET USA

    Nice comment,Phil. This man may not have been building a decadent palace as the "bling" bishop,but I'd like to see them housed in seminaries as some humbler bishops are. High times for the clergy are over.

  • Posted by: stephanie.linden2136 - Apr. 02, 2014 2:52 AM ET USA

    Please do not insinuate that Bishop Tebartz van Elst is not a leader in serving the Church. Please stop using the term "Bling" to describe him. I know Germany is far away and your sources are limited, but he really is a loyal son of the Church. He is also very human. Thank you.

  • Posted by: stephanie.linden2136 - Apr. 02, 2014 2:47 AM ET USA

    I live in Germany and this usage of "Bling" to describe Bishop TvE is really offensive. Yes , he certainly made some big mistakes, but I find the term unworthy. All other Church leaders can learn a lot from the Limburg affair. I don't know anything about the diocese of Atlanta or the Bishop there. But my thoughts on the use of finances in the Church lately tend to be, if it is necessary to build or renovate, then build beautiful and qualitative buildings while we still have the means...

  • Posted by: tasha1996 - Apr. 01, 2014 6:24 PM ET USA

    As a Baby, Jesus was laid in a manger in a stable. As an adult, He said,"Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head." Luke 9:58

  • Posted by: polish.pinecone4371 - Apr. 01, 2014 6:23 PM ET USA

    We'll see. All he's promised to do is to consult with the Finance, Presbyteral and Pastoral councils -- that's it. On the Denver project, I'm not sure I would include that with what Myers is doing in Newark or what Gregory did. Denver seems a common project with the archbishop only getting an apartment, not a house. And the story makes it seem as if the space is needed for meetings, classes and whatnot.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 01, 2014 1:53 PM ET USA

    Having read most of the Achbp's apology, this to me looks like a tempest/teapot scenario, assuming the Archbp is telling the truth, and I suspect that he is. He said that all he did was more or less duplicate a new residence for himself and his successors, so the old one coould better be used by the diocese. The new building sounds expensive, but that's what things cost these days. What wasn't calculated was the diocese's cost had the Archbp not surrendered his residence. I don't see the problem