Reports emerged Thursday that Pope Francis is set to appoint Archbishop of Atlanta Wilton Gregory to replace Cardinal Donald Wuerl as the archbishop of Washington, D.C., after the latter resigned following reports that he had mishandled sexual assault cases.
The Catholic News Agency first reported on Gregory’s appointment; however, the report’s reliance on anonymous sources has led many Catholic institutions and D.C. news outlets to question its validity, according to The Washington Post. As of Saturday, no other Catholic media or mainstream outlet had confirmed the report other than the far-right, web-based Catholic news outlet, Church Militant.
Gregory’s appointment would be a historic milestone for the Catholic Church in the United States, according to The Washington Post. If appointed, Gregory would be the first black Catholic archbishop of D.C.
Gregory’s appointment follows the ongoing clergy sexual abuse scandal within the church, which has implicated two former archbishops of D.C.
Former Archbishop of Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was found guilty of abuse of minors and solicitation of sex from adults during confession. McCarrick became one of the highest-ranking Americans to be formally dismissed from the clerical state when he was officially defrocked by the Catholic Church on Feb. 16.
Shortly after McCarrick was removed from public ministry, Wuerl was implicated in a Pennsylvania grand jury report last August for covering up abuse. Francis accepted Wuerl’s resignation as archbishop of Washington in October.
McCarrick and Wuerl had both been awarded honorary degrees from Georgetown; however, McCarrick’s was revoked by the university days after he was laicized, the first time the university has ever revoked an honorary degree.
Gregory served a term as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2001 to 2004, where he led the U.S. Catholic hierarchy through the fallout of the Boston Globe’s 2002 investigation into church efforts to cover up clerical abuse.
During his term, Gregory oversaw the formation and implementation of the Dallas Charter, or the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which is a comprehensive set of procedures established by the USCCB in 2002 to address allegations of sexual abuse of minors by the Catholic clergy.
Following his tenure as president of USCCB, Gregory now works with Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz to examine and develop proposed reforms for increasing episcopal accountability regarding the sexual abuse of minors by clergy.
Who is set to occupy the vacant archbishop position has been the subject of speculation since November 2018, after Wuerl’s resignation. Despite public outcry following revelations of Wuerl’s involvement in covering up clerical abuse, he still sits on the Congregation for Bishops at the Vatican, which recommends candidates for bishop positions to be selected by Francis, according to the National Catholic Reporter.
The Archdiocese of Washington declined The Hoya’s request for comment, on the grounds that it was awaiting an announcement from the Vatican.
Ed Condon, who co-wrote the original CNA report with CNA Editor-in-Chief J.D. Flynn, said he has complete faith in the contents of the article.
“We would not ever publish anything in which we did not have total confidence, especially a report in which we did not have total confidence, especially a report that we knew was likely to garner considerable attention,” Condon wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Since the release of the report, some have doubted the credibility of CNA’s reports on Gregory’s appointment. Critics of CNA’s reporting have suggested that Gregory had not been offered the job, and an individual allied with the pope was instead floating a red herring to gauge sentiment in the District, an epicenter of the sexual abuse crisis, according to The Washington Post.
Others have proposed that CNA, a right-leaning publication, released the report after it was leaked by critics of Francis to hurt Gregory’s chances of selection, as the Atlanta archbishop is considered too liberal by some orthodox critics, according to The Washington Post.
These theories exist because of the ignorance of the general public about Catholic Church affairs, according to Condon.
“Part of the reason you often see feverish and politicized speculation or ‘conspiracy theorizing’ about Church affairs is that many simply do not understand the processes by which the Church is governed,” Condon wrote.
The red herring theory is completely unfounded based on Condon’s previous experience and background in Catholic reporting, he wrote.
“When you have a well-formed perspective of how, for example, the Congregation for Bishops works in Rome, the process is far less mysterious,” Condon wrote. “When you have spent a few years working with curial officials at close quarters, wild speculation about ‘trial balloons’ and so on seems a little funny.”