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Pope Francis names Wilton Gregory to follow Wuerl at Washington archdiocese

Wilton Gregory, pictured in 2002 (Getty)

The Vatican has confirmed that Gregory will succeed Cardinal Wuerl

Pope Francis Thursday named Archbishop Wilton Gregory the Archbishop of Washington, succeeding Cardinal Donald Wuerl.

Archbishop Wilton Gregory, 71, is the Archbishop of Atlanta, where he has served since 2004.

Gregory will be the first African-American Archbishop of Washington, a historic milestone for the Church in the United States underscored by the April 4 anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination 51 years ago.

The announcement confirms CNA’s March 28 report that the pope had offered Gregory the post to take over for Wuerl, who has acted as an interim administrator of the archdiocese since Pope Francis accepted his resignation in October 2018.

The Archbishop of Washington is viewed as one of the most influential Churchmen in the United States; the five most recent archbishops were all created cardinals – including the now-laicized Theodore McCarrick.

The archbishop will assume leadership after months of scandal in the Church in the U.S. The Archdiocese of Washington has often been at the epicenter of the scandal.

Gregory, who served as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2001 to 2004, helped lead the American hierarchy through the fallout of the Church’s 2002 sexual abuse scandals. He oversaw the formation and implementation of the “Dallas Charter” and USCCB’s “Essential Norms” in 2002.

Wuerl’s record as a bishop came under scrutiny last year, following the revelation of credible allegations of sexual misconduct by McCarrick, and the subsequent release of a grand jury report detailing decades of abuse allegations in six Pennsylvania dioceses, including the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where Wuerl served as bishop from 1988 to 2006.

Amid calls for Wuerl’s resignation and demonstrations outside of his Washington residence, the cardinal sent a letter to Pope Francis in September 2018 requesting that his resignation be accepted.

Wuerl, 78, had originally submitted his resignation on Nov. 12, 2015, when he turned 75 years old, as required by canon law.

The pope accepted his resignation in October 2018, but at the same time named Wuerl apostolic administrator of the archdiocese until the appointment of a permanent successor.

In January 2019 it was revealed that an allegation of misconduct against now-laicized Theodore McCarrick was reported to Wuerl in 2004, despite his insistence he knew nothing about McCarrick’s alleged sexual misconduct until 2018.

As the Catholic leader of the American capital, the Archbishop of Washington is generally expected to walk a narrow line: articulating the Church’s teaching in the middle of the national political conversation, without appearing to be partisan.

A Chicago native, Gregory converted to Catholicism as a student in a Chicago Catholic grade school. In 1971, he was ordained a priest in Chicago by Cardinal John Cody. Consecrated bishop at age 36, Gregory served as an auxiliary bishop in his home diocese under Cardinal Joseph Bernardin from 1983 until 1994 when he was made Bishop of Belleville, Illinois.

As Archbishop of Atlanta, Gregory has ordained 64 men to the priesthood and overseen the welcoming of more than 16,000 people as converts into the Catholic Church.