The move was widely anticipated; Washington archbishops are typically elevated to cardinal after their appointments. But it’s nonetheless symbolically significant in the U.S. Catholic Church, where Blacks have been underrepresented among the leadership.
Gregory was appointed archbishop of Washington last year to take over for Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who had been accused of mishandling clerical abuse cases. He will be eligible to vote in any papal election until he reaches the cutoff age of 80.
Francis announced the names of his new cardinals from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, where he delivers his Sunday Angelus. The Vatican said the ceremony to elevate the new cardinals, called a consistory, would take place Nov. 28, but it was unclear whether tightening coronavirus restrictions in Italy might interfere.
Among the other new cardinals, four already are over 80, according to the Vatican. The new cardinals include Marcello Semeraro, an Italian who was recently appointed head of the church’s saint-making body, and the archbishop of Kigali, Rwanda, Antoine Kambanda.
Gregory has long been among the most prominent Catholic leaders in the United States, having lead the national conference of Catholic 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.
When President Trump and the first lady visited a Washington shrine that honors Pope John Paul II days after Trump’s controversial photo op in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Gregory called it “baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people, even those with whom we might disagree.”
In a statement, Gregory noted that Pope John Paul II would not have condoned Trump’s actions at St. John’s, where security forces cleared the path of peaceful protesters so Trump could hold a bible in front of the church.
“Saint Pope John Paul II was an ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings. His legacy bears vivid witness to that truth,” Gregory said. “He certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace.”
Before coming to Washington, Gregory was known for being diplomatic and mild-mannered. He has since become a bit more outspoken in moments that bring together religion, politics and race. After the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, Gregory mentioned similar moments, and said incidents of police brutality were “tragically” repeating.
The killing of Floyd and others, Gregory said, “clearly” confirms “that racism still endures in our country.”
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