Pope Francis has appointed the first African American cardinal in history

Pope Francis has appointed the first African American cardinal in history

Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Washington D.C., is among the 13 clergymen who will be appointed cardinals. The prelate distinguished himself for his inclusive attitude towards the LGBT + community and the fight against racism and cases of pedophilia

(photo: Mark Wilson / Getty Images) Pope Francis has appointed 13 new cardinals, including the archbishop of Washington DC Wilton Gregory, the first black US prelate to earn office. The announcement was made by surprise by the pope himself on Sunday 25 October, while he was overlooking St. Peter's Square in the Vatican: the appointment ceremony for the new cardinals will take place on 28 November next. "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 the care of the Church of Christ," said Gregory as reported by the archdiocese.

However, Gregory's appointment specifically was not entirely a surprise: the archdiocese of Washington D.C. traditionally brings with it the elevation to the rank of cardinal (5 of Gregory's 6 predecessors have become one); therefore, since the African-American prelate had been designated as archbishop by Francis in 2019, there were rumors of the possibility of his further promotion. The fact remains that Gregory's is a historic appointment, which came after months of demonstrations in the United States against racism and police abuses against the African American community triggered by the murder of George Floyd in May 2020.

Gregory himself, moreover, last June was publicly critical of the President of the United States Donald Trump, during the latter's visit to the National Shrine of St. John Paul II in Washington D.C. Only the day before, in fact, some civil rights demonstrators had been forcibly removed from the square in front of the White House to facilitate a very brief visit by the president to an episcopal church in the capital: "It is disconcerting and reprehensible that a Catholic structure has left abuse and manipulate in such a striking way, ”Gregory emphasized referring to the episode. Also in June 2020, during a dialogue at Georgetown University, Gregory spoke frankly about his own reaction to the killing of George Floyd a month earlier, emphasizing the importance of the Catholic Church's involvement in pressing social issues, he said: " The Church lives in society. The Church does not live within the four walls of the structures where we pray ”. In fact, under his leadership, the archdiocese of Washington D.C. has created an initiative against racism, offering targeted prayer and listening sessions.

Gregory's brilliant rise

Ordained a priest in his hometown of Chicago in 1973, 72-year-old Wilton Gregory assumed leadership of the archdiocese of the capital Washington D.C. last year, after having been archbishop of Atlanta since 2005. During his tenure in Atlanta in 2014, he distinguished himself by commenting positively on his conversations with Catholic parents of LGBT + children in a newspaper column. The executive director of the New Ways Ministry (Catholic faction inclusive towards the LGBT + community) Francis DeBernardo, told the Associated Press that he thinks Gregory's choice as cardinal signals that Pope Francis wants "LGBT + people to be part of the Church and that people of the Church respect them ”.

Furthermore, during his career as a clergyman, Gregory has been assiduously engaged in combating the sexual abuse of minors perpetrated by priests. While serving as president of the Bishops' Conference of the United States between 2001 and 2004, he helped shape the Church's "zero tolerance" reaction to pedophilia by adopting a protocol to govern the treatment of sexual abuse allegations made by minors against priests. that were flocking at that time. When he was appointed archbishop of Washington D.C. in fact, in May 2019, Gregory was chosen by the Pope to take over from Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who resigned in October 2018 for hiding multiple abuse scandals while serving as a bishop in Pittsburgh between 1988 and 2006. In turn, Wuerl had replaced Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in Washington, fired in February 2019 (many years after his term in the capital ended) after a Vatican-backed investigation concluded that he had sexually abused children and adults during the his time as a priest in New York and as a bishop in New Jersey.

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