The quick attempt by some in the media to categorize this matter and this good Bishop by trying to squeeze this story into the template of the so called "Bishop of Bling" was inappropriate. It was especially inappropriate for the Catholic media.In particular, some on the blogosphere and on Catholic aggregation sites. What happened to presuming the best about all people, especially our brethren in the Church? The Archbishop made an error in judgment, a mistake. We all have. We are also all invited into a life of continual conversion - and we all fall short. When we do, it is how we respond to that wrong judgment which reveals who we are and who we are becoming. His actions show humility, integrity and accountability. In addition, The Archbishop is not only our brother; he is our father in the Lord. We should presume his good intentions and protect his reputation, especially in our reporting. The quick rush to this comparison by some in the Catholic media presents a moment for review.
ATLANTA, GA (Catholic Online) - The religious and secular media exhaustively covered the story of German Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst from Limburg, who was disparagingly referred to as the "Bishop of Bling."
The matter has been properly handled by Church authority and the Bishop is under pastoral care.
Sadly, the behavior of that one Bishop seems to have added fuel to a story in the United States concerning Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory. Though I have never met the Archbishop of Atlanta, I have long admired his love for the Lord, his pastoral care of his clergy and his humility.
The reports I have heard, from many of his clergy, as well as members of the lay faithful in that booming Catholic Center for the New Evangelization, have all been stellar. He is said to be a good teacher and a man of godly character and holiness of life. That is why when I saw the reports concerning the building of that new residence for this Bishop I was surprised.
I am a lawyer by training. So, I look to the facts. Upon further examination, the factual difference between the two stories is huge. However, I will not go into the facts, because this Bishop has taken what could have been a wound to the Church and turned it into an occasion of grace.
The good news out of Atlanta is the way this good Bishop responded to the public outcry. He apologized and took immediate action. His humility, integrity and prompt action have now turned the entire story around.
My readers know I have a pet peeve, the haranguing of Catholic Bishops on cranky corners of the Catholic blogosphere and in some Catholic media circles. I refer to it collectively as the Catholic circular firing squad. I think it impedes our mission, often results in sins against charity and fails to honor our obligation in solidarity to one another.
One of my antidotes to the malady is to call attention to the courageous Bishops standing firm in the ancient but ever new Catholic Christian faith. These men are unafraid of engaging the collapsing culture in which we live with the liberating Good News of the Gospel.
In my ecumenical work at the intersection of faith and culture, I am increasingly reminded by Christian friends in other faith communities of the impact of many of our Bishops upon them. I wish some cranky Catholic commentators could hear what I hear and stop their sniping.
The Archbishop of Atlanta is leading a Diocese which exhibits the good fruit which comes from the leadership of a good Bishop. He made a decision which, though well intended, required his apology and proper remedial actions. How refreshing it was to witness his sincere, heartfelt and humble response.
Here is his own written response, from the news service of the Archdiocese. The Bishop used one of the responses he received as an opportunity to do what a Christian leader should do. It can be found in the Georgia Bulletin.
The Archbishop Responds
We are disturbed and disappointed to see our church leaders not setting the example of a simple life as Pope Francis calls for. How can we instill this in our children when they see their archdiocesan leadership living extravagantly? We ask you to rethink these decisions and understand the role model the clergy must serve so the youth of our society can answer Jesus' call. Neither our 18- or 14-year-old sons understand the message you are portraying.
So went just one of many of the heartfelt, genuine and candidly rebuking letters, emails and telephone messages I have received in the past week from people of faith throughout our own Archdiocese and beyond. Their passionate indictments of me as a Bishop of the Catholic Church and as an example to them and their children are stinging and sincere. And I should have seen them coming.
Please understand that I had no desire to move; however, the Cathedral Parish has a problem, albeit a happy one. The Cathedral of Christ the King is one of our largest, most vibrant and fastest growing parishes-but it is landlocked. The site of the current rectory could be used for expansion if the priests could be moved to a new rectory nearby. Because of the proximity of the Archbishop's house to the Cathedral and the way it is configured with separate apartments and common space, the rector of Christ the King one day summoned the courage to ask me if I would give some thought to letting the parish purchase the residence from the Archdiocese to repurpose it for its rectory. It made more sense for them to be in walking distance to the Cathedral than I, so I said yes, knowing full well that literally left the Archbishop without a place to live.
Soon thereafter, the Archdiocese and the Cathedral Parish received a generous bequest from Joseph Mitchell, including his home on Habersham Road, to benefit the whole Archdiocese, but especially his beloved parish, the Cathedral of Christ the King. Through the extraordinary kindness of Joseph Mitchell, we had a perfect piece of property nearby on which to relocate the Archbishop's residence.
Some have suggested that it would have been appropriate for the Cathedral Parish to build a rectory on the Habersham property and have the priests each drive back and forth, and in retrospect that might be true. At the time, though, I thought that not giving up the Archbishop's residence, which was so close to the Cathedral Parish, would have been perceived as selfish and arrogant by the people at the Cathedral Parish and might damage my relationship with them!
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. 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.
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.
Even before the phenomenon we have come to know as Pope Francis was elected to the Chair of Peter, we Bishops of the Church were reminded by our own failings and frailty that we are called to live more simply, more humbly, and more like Jesus Christ who challenges us to be in the world and not of the world. 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.
As the Shepherd of this local Church, a responsibility I hold more dear than any other, certainly more than any configuration of brick and mortar, I am disappointed that, while my advisors and I were able to justify this project fiscally, logistically and practically, 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.
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.
I failed to consider the difficult position in which I placed my auxiliary bishops, priests, deacons and staff who have to try to respond to inquiries from the faithful about recent media reports when they might not be sure what to believe themselves.
I failed to consider the example I was setting for the young sons of the mother who sent the email message with which I began this column.
To all of you, I apologize sincerely and from my heart.
We teach that stewardship is half about what you give away, and half about how you use what you choose to keep. I believe that to be true. Our intention was to recreate the residence I left behind, yet I know there are situations across the country where local Ordinaries have abandoned their large homes, some because of financial necessity and others by choice, and they continue to find ways to interact with the families in their pastoral care without the perception, real or imagined, of lavish lifestyles.
So where do we go from here?
It is my intention to move deliberately forward and to do a better job of listening than I did before. When I thought this was simply a matter of picking up and moving from one house to a comparable one two miles away, we covered every angle from the fiscal and logistical perspectives, but I overlooked the pastoral implications. I fear that when I should have been consulting, I was really only reporting, and that is my failure. To those who may have hesitated to advise me against this direction perhaps out of deference or other concerns, I am profoundly sorry.
There are structures already in place in the Archdiocese from which I am able to access the collective wisdom of our laity and our clergy. In April I will meet with the Archdiocesan Council of Priests, and in early May our Archdiocesan Pastoral Council (a multi-cultural group of Catholics of all ages, representing parishes of all sizes, who serve as a consultative body to me) will convene. I will ask for the Finance Council of the Archdiocese to schedule an extraordinary meeting. At each of these meetings I will seek their candid guidance on how best to proceed.
If it is the will of these trusted representative groups, the Archdiocese will begin the process of selling the Habersham residence. I would look to purchase or rent something appropriate elsewhere.
It has been my great privilege and honor to be your Archbishop for the past nine years. I promise you that my service to you is the reason I get up each day-not the house in which I live or the zip code to which my mail is sent. I would never jeopardize the cherished and personal relationships I have built with so many of you over something that personally means so little after all.
I humbly and contritely ask your prayers for me, and I assure you, as always, of mine for you.
Now, allow me to share a few reflections as I conclude.
The quick attempt by some in the media to categorize this matter and this good Bishop by trying to squeeze this story into the template of the so called "Bishop of Bling" was inappropriate.
It was especially inappropriate for the Catholic media.In particular, some on the blogosphere and on Catholic aggregation sites. What happened to presuming the best about all people, especially our brethren in the Church?
The Archbishop made an error in judgment, a mistake. We all have. We are also all invited into a life of continual conversion - and we all fall short. When we do, it is how we respond to that wrong judgment which reveals who we are and who we are becoming. His actions show humility, integrity and accountability.
In addition, The Archbishop is not only our brother; he is our father in the Lord. We should presume his good intentions and protect his reputation, especially in our reporting. The quick rush to this comparison by some in the Catholic media presents a moment for review.
We are called to follow the admonitions contained in our shared Catechism, particularly in our relationships with one another. For example, following the clear direction contained in the following paragraphs of the Catechism, found within "Life in Christ" and entitled "Offenses against Truth":
Christ's disciples have "put on the new man, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. By "putting away falsehood," they are to "put away all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander.(#2475)
Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty: - of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor; - of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another's faults and failings to persons who did not know them; - of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.(#2477)
Detraction and calumny destroy the reputation and honor of one's neighbor. Honor is the social witness given to human dignity, and everyone enjoys a natural right to the honor of his name and reputation and to respect. Thus, detraction and calumny offend against the virtues of justice and charity. (#2479)
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