The appointment of Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory to lead the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., was an inspired choice by Pope Francis for an influential U.S. archdiocese that’s been through a rough patch lately.
As archbishop of the fast-growing Archdiocese of Atlanta for 14 years and as president of the U.S. Conference of Bishops during its most challenging period, Archbishop Gregory has demonstrated the kind of quiet, persistent strength that the Church very much needs in its leaders.
He’ll be the first black archbishop of such a major U.S. archdiocese and, if D.C. tradition holds, he’ll soon become the first black American cardinal as well.
As the nation’s capital, Washington is home to the seat of U.S. government and most of our important national institutions, giving its Catholic archbishop the opportunity to become a prominent spokesman for the Church in this country. We believe he will use that platform responsibly and well.
Washington, like Atlanta, is also a city with a large African-American population, and the appointment is an important recognition of that reality.
We in New York offer Archbishop Gregory our heartiest congratulations and our support and prayers for his success.
A native of Chicago, the archbishop is no stranger to the Archdiocese of New York.
He was guest homilist in February 2008 at the Black History Month Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral during the archdiocesan Bicentennial Year celebrations.
In 2004, with his three-year term as president of the USCCB nearing its end, then-Bishop Gregory was honored by the archdiocesan Office of Black Ministry with its Pierre Toussaint Medallion and was the featured speaker at the awards dinner in Manhattan.
His tenure as head of the bishops’ conference began just as the U.S. Church was being rocked by the clergy sex abuse scandals. Exerting calm yet firm leadership, Bishop Gregory steered the body toward adoption of the comprehensive Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and other measures to address the problem.
His 2004 appointment to Atlanta was a testament to his ministerial gifts and dedication to the holiness of the Church.
Archbishop Gregory will come to Washington at a time of turmoil in that archdiocese, rooted in the clergy sex abuse scandals that the charter sought to address in relation to the behavior of priests. In Washington, the tumult that erupted in the last year involves its two previous archbishops, both of them cardinals.
Theodore McCarrick, who was Washington’s archbishop from 2001 to 2006, was accused of sexually abusing minors in the 1970s; he was laicized in February. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who was appointed in 2006 after McCarrick’s retirement, stepped down last year amid reports that he mishandled abuse charges against priests while he was Bishop of Pittsburgh.
Washington, then, will be a challenging post, but Archbishop Gregory is prepared to meet the challenge as he did almost 20 years earlier as USCCB president.
In his 2004 remarks at the Black Ministry Dinner, he referenced his tenure, saying, “Not everyone has agreed with our directions, some may doubt them even today.
“Yet, leadership demands both confidence and humility—confidence that tomorrow will be better and humility that no one of us can possibly do all things perfectly. I pray for both virtues, and I give thanks for whatever degree of either I have exhibited during my tenure as president.”
We join in those prayers.