Wilton Gregory will be the first African American cardinal appointed to the Catholic Church’s highest governing body.
Pope Francis made the historic announcement following his Angelus prayer from St Peter’s Square in Vatican City on Sunday.
Gregory, appointed the first African American archbishop in the US, is one of 13 archbishops elevated to the rank of cardinal in the announcement, Vatican News reported.
Gregory’s ascension, announced 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 Catholic Church. The Archbishop of Washington DC also has spoken out in recent days about the importance of Catholic leaders working to combat the sin of racial discrimination.
— Ed. Condon (@canonlawyered) May 21, 2019
Four hours after he learned that Pope Francis had named him as a new cardinal, Gregory celebrated a 150th anniversary mass at Holy Angels Church in Avenue, Maryland.
Cardinal-designate Wilton Gregory, the @WashArchbishop, celebrated a 250th anniversary Mass at Holy Angels Church in Avenue, Maryland on Oct. 25, 2020. Pope Francis named him as one of 13 new cardinals from around the world earlier that morning. (CS photos by @andrewbiraj) pic.twitter.com/0PGDlnG0uq
— Catholic Standard (@CathStandard) October 25, 2020
The 72-year-old 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 to make his elevation official will be held on 28 November.
“With a very grateful and humble heart, I thank Pope Francis for this appointment, which will allow me to work more closely with him in caring for Christ’s church,” 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 US 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 child-sex abuse cases. But some abuse continues to occur, and the church’s procedures for addressing abuse continue to incur criticism from those who feel there’s a lack of consistency and transparency, AP News reported.
Recently, amid nationwide protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Gregory issued a statement critical of President Donald Trump’s visit to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine. The presidential visit to the shrine 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”.
At an event hosted by Georgetown University, Gregory talked frankly about his own response to Floyd’s killing and emphasised the value of church involvement in pressing social issues.
“The church lives in society. The church does not live behind the four doors of the structures where we worship,” Gregory said.
The Washington DC archdiocese has created an anti-racism initiative under Gregory’s leadership, offering focused prayer and listening sessions. 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, while serving in Atlanta, 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 back to Francis’s recently reported comments supporting civil unions for same-sex couples.
A cardinal’s primary responsibility is to elect a new pope, should he step down or die, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Pope Francis confirmed that nine of the 13 new cardinals are under the age of 80, which means they would be eligible to elect his successor.
The new cardinals aged under 80 years of age are the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, Maltese Mario Grech; Italian Marcello Semeraro, former Bishop of Albano and the new Prefect for the Congregation of the Causes of Saints; the Archbishop of Kigali, Rwanda, Antoine Kambanda; the Archbishop of Capiz, in the Philippines, Jose Fuerte Advincula; the Archbishop of Santiago, Chile, Celestino Aós Braco; the Apostolic Vicar of Brunei, Cornelius Sim; and the Archbishop of Siena, Italy, Augusto Paolo Lojudice. In addition, the Pope has also appointed the current Guardian of the Franciscan Sacro Convento in Assisi, Mauro Gambetti.
The four cardinals appointed older than 80 years are Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel, Archbishop Emeritus of San Cristóbal de Las Casas (Mexico); former Apostolic Nuncio Silvano Tomasi, former permanent observer at the United Nations in Geneva who then worked in the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development; Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the Papal Household; and the pastor of the Shrine of Divine Love, Father Enrico Feroci.