The Washington, D.C., archbishop who slammed President Donald Trump’s visit to a Roman Catholic shrine in the city has become the first African American cardinal.
Archbishop Wilton Daniel Gregory, 72, is one of 13 men who assumed the rank of cardinal in ceremonies Nov. 28. Cardinals rank only behind the pope in church hierarchy, and together they vote to elect popes. Cardinals wear red to signify their willingness to shed blood in service of the church.
“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,” Gregory said in a statement in October.
Gregory made national news in June for comments after Trump and first lady Melania Trump’s held a brief photo opportunity at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine – a day after Trump’s controversial visit to St. John’s Episcopal Church.
The church had been slightly damaged after it was set ablaze during protests of death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in the custody of Minneapolis police. Authorities then used smoke canisters and pepper spray to clear a path for the president to walk to St. John’s, the historic building known as the church of presidents.
“I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people even those with whom we might disagree,” Gregory said in a statement then.
Jim Bretzke, a priest, author and professor of theology at John Carroll University in Ohio, says Gregory’s promotion is noteworthy given his clash with Trump. Normally, one important key to success in the church is to stay out of the news, Bretzke says.
“While ‘no news is good news’ may have been the usual advice given to hierarchs on the rise, clearly for Francis it depends on what sort of news is generated,” Bretzky said. “The pope certainly would have known of Gregory’s remarks, and in that context still decided to make him a cardinal.”
Terence McKiernan is president of Bishopaccountability.org, a group seeking accountability of U.S. bishops under civil, criminal and church law for clergy sexual abuse. McKiernan credits Gregory with shepherding through the U.S. Conference of Bishops in 2002 the only church law that stipulates zero-tolerance on sexual abuse.
“This is a milestone. Vatican recognition at last of Black Catholics and their important history in the United States,” McKiernan said in an email to USA TODAY. “This is also recognition of soon-to-be-Cardinal Gregory’s significant role in the clergy abuse crisis.”
Gregory, a Chicago native, was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1973. He served as a parish priest in Chicago and was ordained an auxiliary bishop of Chicago in 1983. In 1994, Gregory was installed as the bishop of Belleville, Illinois, where he served for 11 years, and then as archbishop of Atlanta in 2005, before his appointment as archbishop of Washington in April 2019.
He holds a doctorate in liturgy from the Pontifical Athenaeum of Saint Anselm in Rome.
The other new cardinals include the secretary ceneral of the Synod of Bishops, Maltese Mario Grech, and Italian Marcello Semeraro, former Bishop of Albano and the new prefect for the Congregation of the Causes of Saints.
Also on the list: archbishop of Kilgali, Rwanda, Antoine Kambanda; the archbishop of Capiz, in the Philippines, Jose Fuerte Advincula; the archbishop of Santiago, Chile, Celestino Aós Braco; the apostolic vicar of Brunei, Cornelius Sim; the archbishop of Siena, Italia, Augusto Paolo Lojudice.
The pope has also appointed the current guardian of the Franciscan Sacro Convento in Assisi, Mauro Gambett; Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel, archbishop emeritus of San Cristóbal de Las Casas in Mexico; former Apostolic Nuncio Silvano Tomasi, former permanent observer at the United Nations in Geneva; Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the Papal Household; and the pastor of the Shrine of Divine Love, Enrico Feroci.
During his homily Saturday, Francis warned the new cardinals against falling into corruption or using their new rank for personal advancement, saying that just because they have a new title, “Eminence,” doesn’t mean they should drift from their people.
His comments reflected Francis’ constant complaint about the arrogance of the clerical class, as well as his current battles to fight corruption in the Vatican hierarchy.
“Let’s think of so many types of corruption in the life of the priesthood,” Francis told the new cardinals, deviating from his prepared text. If they think of themselves so grandly, “you won’t be pastors close to the people, you’ll just be ‘Eminence.’ And if you feel this way, you’ll have strayed off the road,” the pope warned.
The ceremony, known as a consistory, is the seventh of Francis’ pontificate and once again reflected the Argentine pope’s effort to name cardinals from places that have never had them before or whose service to the church he wants to highlight. Nine are under age 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope, further solidifying the majority of Francis-appointed, voting-age prelates in the College of Cardinals.
Usually, consistories are full of parties and crowds, with days of receptions, Masses and dinners for the new cardinals and their friends. The consistory itself is normally followed by “courtesy visits,” where the new cardinals greet well-wishers and the general public from the grandeur of their own reception rooms in the Apostolic Palace or Vatican auditorium. This year, there were no courtesy visits, and each cardinal was given a 10-guest limit.
Two new “princes” of the church, from Brunei and the Philippines, didn’t make it to Rome because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, though they were shown on giant screens watching it from home in the nearly empty St. Peter’s Basilica. Throughout the socially distanced ceremony, which clocked in at an unusually quick 45 minutes, cardinals new and old wore protective masks.
Most removed their masks when they approached a maskless Francis to receive their red hats, but Gregory kept his on. Gregory also was one of the only new cardinals who kept his mask on when the group paid a singing courtesy visit to retired Pope Benedict XVI.