Pope makes history in elevating Black archbishop
WASHINGTON — Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory is set to become the first Black U. S. prelate to assume the rank of cardinal in the Catholic Church, a historic appointment that comes months after nationwide demonstrations against racial injustice.
Gregory’s ascension, announced on Sunday by Pope Francis alongside 12 other newly named cardinals, elevates a leader who has drawn praise for his handling of the sexual abuse scandal that has roiled the church. The Washingtonarea archbishop also has spoken out about the importance of Catholic leaders working to combat the sin of racial discrimination.
The 72yearold Gregory, ordained in his native Chicago in 1973, took over leadership of the capital’s archdiocese last year after serving as archbishop of Atlanta since 2005. The ceremony making his elevation official is slated for Nov. 28.
“With a very grateful and humble heart, I thank Pope Francis for this appointment,” Gregory said in a statement issued by the archdiocese.
Gregory helped shape the church’s “zero tolerance” response to the sexual abuse scandal while serving as president of the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2001 to 2004. During that period, the bishops adopted a charter designed to govern its treatment of sexual abuse allegations made by minor children against priests.
The church’s efforts since 2004 have helped achieve a sharp reduction in childsex abuse cases. But some abuse continues to occur, and the church’s procedures continue to incur criticism from those who feel there’s a lack of consistency and transparency.
More recently, amid nationwide protests this summer sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Gregory made headlines for issuing a statement critical of
President Trump’s visit to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine. That visit came one day after demonstrators were forcefully cleared to facilitate Trump’s visit to an Episcopal church in Washington, and Gregory responded that he considered “it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated.”
In addition to his work combating racial injustice and sexual abuse in the church, Gregory has drawn notice for his more inclusive treatment of LGBTQ Catholics. In 2014, he wrote a positive column about his conversations with a group of Catholic parents of LGBTQ children.
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, which represents LGBTQ Catholics, said his group is “very excited” to see Gregory’s elevation and connected it to Francis’ recently reported comments supporting civil unions for samesex couples.
Archbishop Wilton Gregory greets parishioners last year at St. Augustine Church in Washington. Gregory will be the first Black U. S. prelate to assume the rank of cardinal.