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Pope Francis names Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory first African American cardinal

Archbishop Wilton Gregory
Cardinal-elect Gregory joined the parish community of Holy Angels Catholic Church, Avenue to celebrate their 250th anniversary!

Pope Francis on Sunday named Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, a cardinal, elevating the first African-American to the Catholic church’s highest governing body, a groundbreaking act in a year when demands for racial justice have consumed the country.

Archbishop Wilton Gregory is one of 13 cardinals in the new class Francis announced Sunday, a promotion that comes as he is trying to rebuild trust in an archdiocese rocked by sexual abuse cases.

The rise of Archbishop Gregory, who is also the first American named to the College of Cardinals since 2016, comes as debates over how to address the legacy of slavery and racism have extended to the Catholic church, which for centuries excluded African Americans from positions of power.

The new cardinal is a “caring pastor, a quiet leader and a courageous voice when Washington and the country need all three,” said John Carr, who worked with Gregory for 20 years when Carr was a lobbyist for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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The rise of Archbishop Gregory, who is also the first American named to the College of Cardinals since 2016, comes as debates over how to address the legacy of slavery and racism have extended to the Catholic church, which for centuries excluded African Americans from positions of power.

In recent months, Archbishop Gregory has urged the church’s leaders to improve race relations, recalling his time as an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Chicago, and how important it was for young Black Catholics to see a bishop who looked like them.

Gregory has long been among the most prominent Catholic leaders in the United States, having led the conference of bishops in the early 2000s, when it was making its first attempt to draw up anti-abuse guidelines. Gregory was archbishop of Atlanta before coming to Washington.

“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, according to the Catholic Standard, the Washington Archdiocese’s newspaper.

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