Pope Francis elevated Archbishop of Washington D.C. Wilton Gregory to cardinal Sunday, making him the first African American to hold the position. The 72-year-old is now the highest ranked Black prelate in the United States.
"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," cardinal-elect Gregory, who led the church’s response to a sexual abuse scandal in the early 2000s, said in a statement.
Gregory was one of 13 new cardinals, which also included archbishops from Cuba, the Congo and Guatemala, named by Pope Francis during his noontime prayer in Vatican City, and the nominees will be installed during a ceremony later this month.
The nomination comes as the Catholic Church examines how racism and the legacy of slavery impacts the church's moral authority. During his time as archbishop, Gregory has urged leaders to improve race relations, and said “every racial and ethnic background are needed” to continue the fight for racial justice in a Mass commemorating the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington.
Francis has also called for racial equality. In the wake of George Floyd’s killing, Francis denounced the “sin of racism” and said “we cannot close our eyes to any form of racism or exclusion while pretending to defend the sacredness of every human life.”
Gregory was born and raised in Chicago, and was ordained to priesthood at just 25 years old. He oversaw the issuance of the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” as the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Week for his handling of the sex abuse scandal.
He has also taken a firm stance against guns in churches, and made national news when he slammed President Donald Trump and first lady Melania for having authorities clear a path to St. John’s Episcopal Church using smoke canisters and pepper spray in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. Gregory is also a fervent supporter of the LGBTQ community in church.