Pope Francis on Oct. 25, 2020, named Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory as one of 13 new cardinals, to be elevated at a Nov. 28 consistory at the Vatican.
Archbishop Gregory, installed as Washington’s archbishop in May 2019, will become the first African American to be elevated to the College of Cardinals.
In a statement, Archbishop Gregory said, “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.”
Archbishop Gregory, a native of Chicago, turns 73 on Dec. 7. As a sixth-grader attending St. Carthage School in Chicago in 1958, he was inspired by the example of the parish priests and Adrian Dominican Sisters there to become Catholic.
At the press conference when he was introduced as Washington’s new archbishop, he said, “Within six weeks of being in Catholic school and not being from a Catholic background, I said, ‘I want to be a priest.’”
Wilton Gregory was baptized as a Catholic during the Easter Vigil. that school year.
Later after studying as a seminarian he was ordained as a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1973 and earned a doctorate in sacred liturgy from the Pontifical Liturgical Institute in Rome in 1980.
After serving as a parish priest in Chicago and as a master of ceremonies to Cardinals John Cody and Joseph Bernardin, he was ordained an auxiliary bishop of Chicago in 1983.
In 1994, Bishop Gregory was installed as the bishop of Belleville, Illinois, where he served for the next 11 years. Bishop Gregory was elected president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2001 after serving three years as the vice president. During his service as the president of the USCCB from 2001 to 2004, the crisis of sex abuse by Catholic clergy escalated, and under his leadership, the bishops implemented the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”
Pope Saint John Paul II appointed Bishop Gregory to serve as the archbishop of Atlanta, where he was installed in 2005 and served until Pope Francis named his as the new archbishop of Washington in 2019.
At the press conference where he was introduced as Washington’s new archbishop, Archbishop Gregory promised to work for healing in that archdiocese that had been shaken by the clergy abuse crisis, including the resignation and removal from the priesthood of former Washington archbishop and cardinal Theodore McCarrick following charges that McCarrick had abused minors and engaged in sexual misconduct with adults.
“I am arriving with a commitment to transparency,” Archbishop Gregory said. “The only way I can serve this archdiocese is by telling the truth. I will always tell the truth.”
At his installation Mass as Washington’s new archbishop, Archbishop Gregory pointed to the Gospel story of Jesus calming the stormy seas when he was in the boat with his apostles.
“I remind you… He is here. He is here when the seas are calm, and He is here during every moment of uncertainty, anger, fear, and shame. He invites us to place our trust in Him,” Archbishop Gregory said.
Archbishop Gregory emphasized that same message in 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic initially caused a shutdown of public Masses and for Catholic school campuses to close.
In a column for the Catholic Standard newspaper, Archbishop Gregory wrote that “even in the uncertainty of this current situation, if we are open, God will use this moment to bring our hearts closer to Him and more firmly in union with one another.”
Following the nationwide racial protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd, who died on May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes during an arrest, Archbishop Gregory said in a statement that “this incident reveals the virus of racism among us once again even as we continue to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.”
Archbishop Gregory has praised the peaceful protests for racial justice, saying that the young people helping lead those marches offer hope for building a more just nation where all lives are respected.
On the morning when Pope Francis named him as a new cardinal, Archbishop Gregory was scheduled to celebrate a 250th anniversary Mass for Holy Angels Parish in Avenue, which is located near St. Clement’s Island in Southern Maryland. The first Catholic Mass in the English-speaking colonies was celebrated at St. Clement’s Island in 1634.
Reaction has come from across the country and region to Cardinal-designate Gregory’s elevation to the College of Cardinals.
“By naming Archbishop Gregory as a cardinal, Pope Francis is sending a powerful message of hope and inclusion to the Church in the United States,” said Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “As a former president of our national bishops’ conference, Archbishop Gregory displayed generous and principled leadership. The naming of the first African American cardinal from the United States gives us an opportunity to pause and offer thanks for the many gifts African American Catholics have given to the Church. Please join me in praying for the continued ministry of Archbishop Gregory.”
Cardinal-designate Gregory serves on the Board of Governors of the Maryland Catholic Conference. Jenny Kraska, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, issued the following statement:
“Today’s appointment of Cardinal-elect Gregory to the College of Cardinals is a great honor for him, for the people he serves, and for all of us here in Maryland. Cardinal-elect Gregory is a pastor at heart whose gentle ministry is guided by his deep love for Christ. The universal Church will gain from his wisdom, kindness, and faith as he takes on this new responsibility as a special advisor to the Holy Father and a papal elector.
“As our state and nation continue to grapple with racial tension, the appointment of the first African-American Cardinal in history also has special significance. Throughout his ministry, Cardinal-elect Gregory has sought to address wrongs and bridge differences. Earlier this month, he participated in a virtual town hall on police reform in Maryland and in June, he and the other bishops of Maryland released a letter on racial justice.
“We offer him our prayers and support.”
Georgetown University’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life tweeted congratulations to Cardinal-designate Gregory and noted that “he is our pastor, our leader, our friend. He has been a frequent participant in Initiative dialogues.”
After his elevation to the College of Cardinals, Cardinal-designate Gregory will become the sixth cardinal archbishop of Washington.
Cardinal Patrick O’Boyle, the first resident archbishop of Washington, led the archdiocese from 1948 to 1973, when he retired.
He was succeeded by Cardinal William Baum, who led the Archdiocese of Washington from 1973 to 1980 when he was named to lead the Vatican Congregation for Education.
Cardinal James Hickey lead the archdiocese from 1980 until his retirement in 2000.
He was succeeded by former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who served as Washington’s archbishop from 2001 until his retirement in 2006. McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals in 2018 and was removed from the priesthood in 2019 after allegations of abuse of minors and sexual misconduct with adults.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl led the Archdiocese of Washington from 2006 until his retirement in 2018. In 2019, Pope Francis named Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory to be the new archbishop of Washington; and in 2020, the pope named him as a cardinal.
There are 72.4 million Catholics in the United States as of 2019, according to statistics compiled by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. Of those, approximately three million are of African-American descent.
In addition to Cardinal-designate Wilton Gregory, active African American bishops in the United State include Washington Auxiliary Bishop Roy E. Campbell; New Orleans Auxiliary Fernand J. Cheri III, OFM; Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, Bishop Shelton J. Fabre III, OFM; and Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Joseph N. Perry.
The retired African-American bishops are Bishop Gordon D. Bennett, SJ, bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Mandeville, Jamaica; Bishop Edward K. Braxton, bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Belleville, Illinois; Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD, bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Beaumont, Texas; Bishop Martin D. Holley, bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Memphis; Bishop John H. Ricard, SSJ, bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee; Bishop Guy A. Sansaricq, auxiliary bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Brooklyn; and Bishop J. Terry Steib, SVD, bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Memphis.