Archbishop of Atlanta Wilton Gregory is set to become the first black archbishop of Washington, D.C., on May 21, the Vatican announced Thursday.
Gregory’s appointment follows the ongoing clerical sexual abuse scandal within the church, which has implicated the last two archbishops of D.C. The D.C. archdiocese has looked to fill the position for almost six months since former Archbishop of Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl resigned in October following reports he mishandled sexual abuse cases.
Gregory, the only living black archbishop in the United States, has led the archdiocese of Atlanta since 2005. He pledged to move forward past the history of sexual abuse in the church at a Thursday press conference
“I cannot undo the past, but I sincerely believe that together, we will not only address the moments where we’ve fallen short or failed outright, but we will model for all the life and teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and we will reclaim the future,” Gregory said at the press conference.
Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who served as D.C. archbishop before Wuerl, was expelled from the priesthood for sexually abusing minors and soliciting sex from adults during confession at the conclusion of a canonical trial Feb. 16. McCarrick became one of the highest-ranking Americans to be formally dismissed from the clergy.
Shortly after McCarrick was removed from public ministry June 20, Wuerl was implicated in a Pennsylvania grand jury report last August for covering up sexual abuse. Pope Francis accepted Wuerl’s resignation as archbishop of Washington on Oct. 12.
McCarrick and Wuerl had both been awarded honorary degrees from Georgetown. McCarrick’s degree was revoked by the university days after he was expelled from the priesthood following months of student advocacy. This marked the first time the university has ever revoked an honorary degree.
Gregory recognized the need to address the issue of sexual abuse during his time as archbishop.
“This is obviously a moment fraught with challenges, throughout our entire Catholic Church certainly, but nowhere more so than this local faith community,” Gregory said at the press conference. “I would be naive not to acknowledge the unique task that awaits us.”
Despite public outcry following revelations of Wuerl’s involvement in covering up clerical abuse, Wuerl 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.
Wuerl, who previously worked with Gregory on a number of church initiatives, welcomed Gregory to the D.C. archdiocese in an April 4 news release.
“As the Church of Washington opens a new chapter and looks to the future, we can all, with great confidence and enthusiasm, welcome our new shepherd,” Wuerl wrote.
Gregory’s appointment was announced in D.C. by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States. Gregory served a term as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2001 to 2004, when he led the U.S. Catholic hierarchy through the fallout of the Boston Globe’s 2002 investigation into the cover-up of clerical abuse in the church.
During his term, Gregory oversaw the formation and implementation of the Dallas Charter, or the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, a comprehensive set of procedures established by the USCCB in 2002 to address allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy.
Following his tenure as president of USCCB, Gregory continued to work 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 while serving as archbishop of Atlanta.
Gregory may only serve as archbishop of Washington for a short amount of time. At 71, Gregory will have to submit his resignation when he reaches 75, the age when every bishop must submit his resignation according to canon law. The sitting pope has the authority to decide whether or not to accept the resignation.