D.C. Archbishop Wilton Gregory Will Become First African-American Cardinal Archbishop Wilton Gregory accepted the offer from Pope Francis to become the leader of an archdiocese in turmoil over abuse allegations.

Pope Names New D.C. Archbishop

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The Vatican has selected a new archbishop of Washington, D.C. Pope Francis named Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta. He'll be the first African-American to lead the D.C. Archdiocese, which has become the center of the clergy sex abuse crisis in the United States. NPR's religion correspondent Tom Gjelten is in our studios. Tom, good morning.


INSKEEP: What is Gregory's background?

GJELTEN: He's been a bishop for a long time, Steve. He's been a bishop for, like, 36 years - 35, 36 years - very well-known. He was, at one point, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which put him in a leadership position. So he's well-regarded here in the States. As you say, he is an African-American. He's actually, at this moment, the only living African-American archbishop in the country.


GJELTEN: That's an important consideration, considering that Washington, D.C., has a very large black population.

INSKEEP: And also considering the more diverse nature of the global Catholic Church, I would think.

GJELTEN: Exactly. And, you know, the Washington, D.C., archdiocese is very important. It's obviously the nation's capital. This is where the Catholic University of America, the flagship institution of the Catholic Church, is located - the basilica. So it's a very important position. By tradition, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., is made a cardinal, which will elevate him to - course, to the College of Cardinals, and he will be able to vote on the next pope.

INSKEEP: OK, but how does he fit with the peculiar problems of the job he's taking over?

GJELTEN: Very important question. I mean, there is no more troubled diocese - archdiocese in the country right now, probably, than Washington, D.C. His immediate predecessor, Donald Wuerl, had to resign this position because of allegations that he had not been tough enough on abusive priests. Wuerl's predecessor, Theodore McCarrick, was actually defrocked because of allegations he had abused minors as a young bishop. So he is stepping into a real hotbed. And he is 71 years old, so he has to formally submit his resignation in just four years. He's going to have to move fast to restore trust.

INSKEEP: Oh, 75-year retirement deadline there. Well, there's also this divide in the church on other issues - a divide, essentially, over Pope Francis. Are you more liberal? Are you more conservative? Where does Gregory fit in there?

GJELTEN: Well, he's certainly considered one of the most progressive American bishops. Just to take one example of his preaching, you know, today is the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King. And one year ago today, Archbishop Gregory gave a homily on that occasion in which he laid out his views of the significance of Martin Luther King. He said, for example, that 2018 is as problematic a year as 1968 was. Today, he said xenophobia masquerades as a patriotic response to the presence of immigrants and refugees in our midst. And then he said this.


WILTON GREGORY: People in our nation continue to be victimized because of their color or their first language or their sexual orientation or their religious beliefs, like too many people did 50 years ago.

INSKEEP: Strong words.

GJELTEN: Strong words. Now, he didn't call for resistance or nonviolent protest the way Martin Luther King did, but still, he made clear where he stands on these big issues. And I think he is - it's fair to say he is a big supporter of Pope Francis at a time when the pope actually has a lot of detractors in the church.

INSKEEP: And of course, the pope is the man who named him to the job. Tom, thanks so much for coming by.

GJELTEN: You bet, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's religion correspondent Tom Gjelten.

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