Pope Francis on Sunday named 13 new cardinals, including Washington, D.C., Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who would become the first Black U.S. prelate to be so named.
Gregory is the former bishop of the Belleville Diocese.
In a surprise announcement from his studio window to faithful standing below in St. Peter’s Square, Francis said the churchmen would be elevated to a cardinal’s rank in a ceremony Nov. 28.
The selection of Gregory won praise from LGBTQ advocates in the United States, days after Pope Francis grabbed headlines for voicing support for civil unions for gay couples, according to the Associated Press.
Other new cardinals include an Italian who is the long-time papal preacher at the Vatican, the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, who is a Franciscan friar; the Kigali, Rwanda, Archbishop Antoine Kambanda; the Capiz, Philippines, Archbishop Jose Feurte Advincula, and the Santiago, Chile, Archbishop Celestino Aos Braco.
The prestigious Washington archdiocese traditionally brings elevation to cardinal’s rank, so the appointment of Gregory, 73, last year by the pope had positioned him to be tapped for the honor, the wire service reported.
Still, the timing of his rise to cardinal is noteworthy, coming in the thick of increased U.S. attention on racial injustice following the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minnesota this year. Gregory was publicly critical of U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington a day after civil rights demonstrators were forcibly cleared from a square to facilitate the president’s visit to an Episcopal church in the U.S. capital.
Gregory has had his pulse on factions in the U.S. Catholic Church, which has both strong conservative and liberal veins since he served three times as the head of the U.S. Conference of Bishops, the AP reported.
Conservative prelates in the United States have openly lambasted Francis for his more liberal stands, including his support for same-sex civil unions that came out in a new documentary this week.
Gregory said in a statement that becoming a cardinal would allow him to work more closely with the pontiff in caring for the Catholic Church.
While Gregory headed the Atlanta diocese earlier in his career, he wrote positively in a column about his conversations with Catholic parents of LGBTQ children. An advocate for LGBTQ Catholics, Francis DeBernardo, told The Associated Press that choosing Gregory for a cardinal’s post signals Francis wants “LGBTQ people to be part of the church, and he wants church people to respect them.”
Gregory, who was born in Chicago, was appointed on Dec. 29, 1993, by Pope John Paul II as the seventh bishop of Belleville. He was installed on Feb. 10, 1994.
Pope John Paul II named Bishop Gregory the seventh Archbishop of Atlanta on Dec. 9, 2004. His installation took place Jan. 17, 2005.
From 2001 to 2004, he served as the president of the USCCB, the first African-American to head an episcopal conference,[ as Vice President from 1998 to 2001 and also chairman of several committees. During his presidency, the American bishops issued the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” in response to Roman Catholic sex abuse cases. He is also a member of the board of trustees at The Catholic University of America. In 2002, in recognition of his handling of the sex abuse scandal with repeated apologies and the defrocking of priests, he was chosen as Time’s Person of the Week.