Atlanta archbishop named new leader of Washington Archdiocese

| April 4, 2019 | 0 Comments
Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory concelebrates Mass during the Catholic convocation in Orlando, Fla., in this July 2, 2017, file photo. On April 4, 2019, Pope Francis named Archbishop Gregory to head the Archdiocese of Washington. CNS photo/Bob Roller

Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory concelebrates Mass during the Catholic convocation in Orlando, Fla., in this July 2, 2017, file photo. On April 4, 2019, Pope Francis named Archbishop Gregory to head the Archdiocese of Washington. CNS photo/Bob Roller

Pope Francis has named Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta as the new archbishop of Washington.

The appointment was announced April 4 in Washington by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Vatican nuncio to the United States.

Archbishop Gregory, 71, a former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops who helped navigate the conference through the clergy sexual abuse crisis in 2002, is the first African American to be named to head the Washington Archdiocese.

He succeeds Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, whose resignation was accepted by Pope Francis in October, nearly three years after he turned 75, the mandatory retirement age for bishops. Cardinal Wuerl continued as apostolic administrator until his successor was named. The cardinal headed the Washington Archdiocese from 2006 to 2018.

Archbishop Gregory will be installed as the seventh archbishop of Washington May 21 at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle.

“I am deeply grateful to Pope Francis for this appointment to serve the Archdiocese of Washington and to work with all of the members of this faith community,” Archbishop Gregory said. “I look forward to encountering and listening to the people of this local church as we address the issues that face us and continue to grow in the love of Christ that sustains us.”

Cardinal Wuerl welcomed his successor’s appointment “with great joy.”

“I join all who appreciate his pastoral abilities, his intellectual gifts and his leadership qualities,” he said in a statement. “I have known Archbishop Gregory for many years. In working with him on a range of pastoral initiatives and programs, I have come to recognize how generously he shares his talents and his love for the church.”

As the Washington Archdiocese “opens a new chapter and looks to the future,” Cardinal Wuerl added, “we can all, with great confidence and enthusiasm, welcome our new shepherd.”

The archdiocese’s three auxiliaries, Bishops Mario E. Dorsonville, Roy E. Campbell Jr. and Michael W. Fisher, also issued statements expressing their joy and gratitude to the pope for appointing Archbishop Gregory to Washington.

“This appointment reflects the Holy Father’s love for our local church, for each one of us, and, especially, for our immigrant families in the archdiocese,” said Bishop Dorsonville.

“I have come to know Archbishop Gregory over the past two years and have had the good fortune to work with him as a member of the black Catholic bishops of the United States,” said Bishop Campbell, a Washington auxiliary since 2017. “I look forward to working closely with him in his ministry of leading and healing all who make up this church and this community.”

Bishop Fisher added: “His experience and guidance as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops during the adoption of the ‘Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People’ will be essential in our church’s continued commitment to healing and accountability. The new archbishop will be shepherding diverse and vibrant parishes with zealous and faith-filled clergy and laity ready to assist him in his ministry.”

Archbishop Gregory has served in Atlanta since 2005. He previously was bishop of Belleville, Illinois, for 11 years, beginning in 1994. He was named auxiliary bishop of Chicago in 1983. In the Archdiocese of Chicago, he served as associate pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Glenview; a faculty member at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein; and as master of ceremonies for Cardinal John P. Cody and Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin.

In moving to Washington, the archbishop steps into a high-profile position. The area that comprises the archdiocese includes the halls of power in Congress, the White House and the U.S. Supreme Court, the many embassies of governments from around the world, and nonprofit and lobbying organizations that advocate on a wide range of public policy issues. He also automatically becomes chancellor of The Catholic University of America’s board of trustees.

Archbishop Gregory comes to an archdiocese with a rich ethnic diversity that includes a vibrant Hispanic community of 270,000 and historic parishes that date to the 19th century serving 100,000 people of African and Caribbean descent. Overall, the archdiocese has nearly 659,000 Catholics throughout the District of Columbia and five Maryland counties.

The archbishop served as USCCB president from November 2001 until 2004, a period that was perhaps one of the most difficult in the conference’s history.

Under his leadership, the bishops adopted the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young Adults” and essential norms for handling accusations of sexual abuse by priests or other church personnel; established a lay board to review how cases have been handled; commissioned an extensive analysis of the factors involved in the crisis and created a staff office to oversee those efforts.

When he was elected in 2001, much of the attention focused on the fact that he was first African American to head the conference. Before that he served three years as vice president of the conference. He was the third African American to be named archbishop of Atlanta.

A Chicago native, Archbishop Gregory was born Dec. 7, 1947. Though not raised as a Catholic, his parents enrolled him at St. Carthage Catholic School for the sixth grade. Within weeks he had decided he wanted to be a Catholic, and by the end of the school year he had been baptized, made his first Communion and been confirmed.

He graduated from Quigley Preparatory Seminary South, Niles College of Loyola University and St. Mary of the Lake Seminary. After his ordination in 1973, he obtained a doctorate in sacred liturgy from the Pontifical Liturgical Institute in Rome.

Since arriving in Atlanta, Archbishop Gregory has seen the archdiocese grow to about 1.2 million Catholics in the 69 counties it covers in northern and central Georgia. In addition, nine parishes were elevated and six missions established, 64 priests and 152 permanent deacons were ordained, nearly 150,000 infants, children and adults were baptized, and more than 16,000 people were brought into full communion with the church, according to the archdiocesan website.

Archbishop Gregory has issued pastoral statements on the death penalty, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide and has published numerous articles discussing liturgy, especially within the African American community.

Get to know Archbishop Wilton Gregory through his own words

Pope Francis:

“Pope Francis has helped me to focus once again on the joy in my pastoral ministry,” Archbishop Gregory said in a 2018 interview for Commonweal magazine with John Gehring. “He (the pope) has challenged me genuinely to believe that the Gospel is and should be the source of the church’s joy. His own approachable, cheerful and hopeful style in exercising the papacy reminds me that shepherds must exude joy, or they will fail to lead anyone else to discover it.”

Today’s disciples:

At the Archdiocese of Atlanta’s 2014 Eucharistic Congress, Archbishop Gregory urged people to find candidates for discipleship by following “the example of Christ himself.” Jesus, he said, found would-be disciples sitting at a well, at a tax collector’s table, on the road to Damascus, “in the most ordinary places of his time.” Archbishop Gregory said that today, disciples might be found “under the city overpasses or standing in soup lines, in prisons where they may languish under perhaps well-deserved punishment but with hope, or in high-rise office buildings.”

Abuse crisis:

“My anger and disappointment, shared by Catholics and others, are only heightened by the reality that leaders who have engaged in or neglected to protect others from such damaging and deviant behavior have for many years failed to be held accountable — and have even risen to leadership positions,” Archbishop Gregory said, in a Aug. 9, 2018, print and video statement on the website of The Georgia Bulletin. “We must do better — for the sake of all victims and survivors of sexual abuse and for the sake of everyone whom we serve.”

Death penalty and abortion:

“There is significant ecumenical and interfaith agreement that the death penalty needs a much more restricted application. The pope has cautioned us that its employment is never validated. What is most difficult for some people to admit is that these inmates, in spite of the horrendous acts of violence of which they may be guilty, are still human beings. The violence that they may well have inflicted on others does not rob them of their human dignity.

“This is the very same truth that underpins the dignity of nascent life within the womb. Infants waiting to be born are also worthy of the reverence that all human life enjoys. Just as there are people who do not see how violent people can still have their humanity acknowledged, there are those who fail to accept the human dignity of those just waiting to be born. The people who reject the humanity of the violent criminal assert that they are not worthy of human dignity because they forfeited innocence by committing crimes — unlike those innocently awaiting birth. But our human dignity does not rest in our innocence, but on the fact that we all have been created by God himself. Human dignity is never dependent upon race, age, social class, legal immigration status, criminal background or health.” — From Archbishop Gregory’s Jan. 10, 2019, “What I Have Seen and Heard” column for The Georgia Bulletin.

Mass shootings:

“We must teach our children the ways of peace, the pattern of respecting and loving others as Jesus has commanded us. This is more than the mere tolerance of the differences of other people. It is the positive acceptance of people of other faiths, races and cultures. I have repeatedly admonished our youngsters at confirmation that they must never view people who are different from them as enemies, rivals or somehow inferior. Our youngsters are subjected to so much violence — in movies, in video games, in cyberspace and even in their streets.” — From Archbishop Gregory’s March 21, 2019, “What I Have Seen and Heard” column for The Georgia Bulletin.

Racial justice:

“The real legacy of which Dr. King himself would be most proud are the opportunities that now exist for young people of color and young white people to see each other as brothers and sisters,” Archbishop Gregory said at the Archdiocese of Atlanta’s 2006 Mass honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “The enduring legacy is the horizon of possibilities that exist for this nation to live out the fulfillment of its lofty heritage of equality and the unfettered human potential that was restricted to only one segment of society when he first began the struggle for freedom.”

Hispanic Catholics:

“We are so richly blessed here in the Archdiocese of Atlanta by the life and faith of our Hispanic sisters and brothers who are present throughout the 69 counties of north and central Georgia. They not only add to our growing population, but they bring us a vision of the Lord’s presence in his church that is invigorating and buoyant. Their devotional life, their family life and their deep Catholic faith all make us a much more vibrant church.

“Each community that is a part of this local church has gifts to offer, and each one does so willingly and generously every day…” From Archbishop Gregory’s Sept. 20, 2018, “What I Have Seen and Heard” column for The Georgia Bulletin.

Same-sex marriage:

(This is excerpted from a letter to Catholics in the Archdiocese of Atlanta written by Archbishop Gregory after the Supreme Court’s June 2015 decision legalizing same-sex marriage in the United States.)

“Every court decision is limited in what it can achieve; again, this one is no exception. It does not change the biological differences between male and female human beings or the requirements for the generation of human life, which still demands the participation of both. It does not change the Catholic Church’s teaching regarding the sacrament of matrimony, which beautifully joins a man and woman in a loving union that is permanent in commitment and open to God’s blessing of precious new life.

“This judgment, however, does not absolve either those who may approve or disapprove of this decision from the obligations of civility toward one another. Neither is it a license for more venomous language or vile behavior against those whose opinions continue to differ from our own. It is a decision that confers a civil entitlement to some people who could not claim it before. It does not resolve the moral debate that preceded it and will most certainly continue in its wake.”

Catholic schools:

“Even as we redesign Catholic schools in many areas that have seen significant demographic shifts in population and establish new schools for growing communities, we cannot lose heart or cease to focus on the mission that comes to us from apostolic times — to proclaim Christ risen from the dead… If we look only at yesterday and at the models and triumphs we enjoyed, we may not be able to see the great possibilities that tomorrow holds for us.” — From Archbishop Gregory’s homily at the opening Mass at the 2006 convention of the National Catholic Educational Association, held in Atlanta.

The environment and the poor:

(This is excerpted from Archbishop Gregory’s letter to Catholics of the Archdiocese of Atlanta after Pope Francis issued his 2015 encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si’ — on Care for our Common Home.”)

“The Holy Father wants us all to take seriously the issues that face our planet — not only from an economic perspective, but out of genuine ethical concern for all of the people with whom we share it. Pope Francis calls us to embrace an integral ecology that brings every dimension of our political, social, financial, ecumenical and scientific worlds together in serious dialogue.

“There are no easy or facile solutions to the challenges we face in protecting and preserving the resources that belong to all of humanity. We must consider the impact of our lifestyles on the poor and the vulnerable, who suffer immediately and profoundly from the excesses of development that can provide great wealth and benefits at their expense. The Holy Father urges us to continue to work together across political, national and ideological divides to address the issues that both benefit and threaten our contemporary environment.”

Priests and prayer:

“Priests do not impart a mundane service or deliver a product that they themselves do not use and in which they do not believe. Priests literally market a spiritual joy that they themselves depend upon and in which they find spiritual strength in their love for the Lord Jesus.” — Archbishop Gregory in a talk at a symposium on the priesthood held in 2011 at The Catholic University of America.


“Every good homily always begins on your knees. Then you should return to the word of God,” Archbishop Gregory said at a 2014 convention of the National Association of Diaconate Directors, held in Atlanta. He noted that Pope Francis in his 2013 apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel” (“Evangelii Gaudium”), wrote, “Trust in the Holy Spirit who is at work during the homily is not merely passive but active and creative. It demands that we offer ourselves and all our abilities as instruments which God can use.”

Compiled by the Catholic Standard, archdiocesan newspaper of Washington, from Catholic News Service reports, The Georgia Bulletin, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, and the website of the Atlanta Archdiocese, which Archbishop Gregory had headed since 2005.


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