AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Earlier this year, after the killing of George Floyd, Washington, D.C., Archbishop Wilton Gregory called on Catholics to address racism. When President Trump visited a Catholic shrine the day after having protesters dispersed with tear gas, Archbishop Gregory called the move baffling and reprehensible. And on the Catholic sexual abuse scandal, Wilton Gregory has said...
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WILTON GREGORY: We must admit our own failures. We clerics and hierarchs have irrefutably been the source of this current tempest.
CORNISH: Now Pope Francis has named the outspoken archbishop of Washington a cardinal. He's the first Black American cardinal. Earlier today I asked Wilton Gregory if he was surprised.
GREGORY: Obviously, there's been a lot of speculation, Audie, because Washington has traditionally had its archbishop named to the College of Cardinals. But as you are aware, Pope Francis has not always followed the game plan. So I was surprised, certainly deeply grateful. But I wasn't going to put all of my eggs in one basket.
CORNISH: Now, I understand you actually converted as a child as you were attending Catholic school in Chicago. And this was in the late '50s.
CORNISH: And shortly after integration - and I want to bring it up because there were families - white families that left the school because of integration.
GREGORY: I came into a Catholic school on the South Side of Chicago. When I entered the sixth grade, approximately maybe six, seven Black kids in September in the sixth grade - by the end of the sixth grade, there were only about six or seven white kids left. So each week, there was a transfer out of white students and a transfer in of Black students.
CORNISH: And this is your introduction to Catholicism or at least this Catholic community as a kid. Why do you think you were drawn to convert?
GREGORY: Well, because the priests, who welcomed Black students, were extraordinarily good, faithful, loving people and witnesses to the goodness of the church. They were enthusiastic about their Catholic background, and they invited the new Black students - many of whom if not most of whom were not Catholic - to join them. It was a clear moment of outreach and evangelization, and I was attracted by it.
CORNISH: I want to ask just about one or two more political issues for a moment. A recent documentary quoted Pope Francis as endorsing civil unions and same-sex relationships. And you've expressed support for LGBTQ Catholics. Do you expect to see this issue getting more attention? And what role do you expect to play in it?
GREGORY: He didn't talk about the relationships. He talked about the individual. He talked about the respect that is due the lesbian and gay community, the transgender community and their rights and their dignity as human beings. And he suggested that the laws that protect all of us should also protect them. In other words, members of the lesbian and gay community deserve the respect that comes to them because they are human beings.
CORNISH: I would think that presiding over a flock here in Washington, D.C., means you have some idea about leadership over a polarized community. Can you talk about that polarization right now? How divided is the U.S. Catholic leadership? I mean, you've got people who are fighting over Pope Francis.
GREGORY: Yes, it's symbolic of the very divisive quality that seems to have captured our entire society, our nation. But there are those who find reasons to be divisive racists, but there are also many, many good people who want to heal the divisions. I think what I have to do as the archbishop is to encourage those who are working for racial and societal justice to carry on and to intensify. And I have to invite those who are negative and, you know, are clinging to racist attitudes from the past to set aside that vision of our church, our society, our nation.
CORNISH: Archbishop Wilton Gregory, soon-to-be cardinal, thank you so much for your time.
GREGORY: Thank you, Audie. God bless.
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