Pope Francis announced the names of the 13 new cardinals from eight nations in a surprise address in Rome on Sunday.
Wilton Daniel Gregory, the 72-year-old Archbishop of Washington and an architect of the church’s zero-tolerance policy on clerical sexual abuse crisis, is one those who would be elevated to cardinal.
The elevation of Archbishop Gregory was not only widely anticipated, it was historic as his appointment makes him the first and only African-American to hold such a position.
According to John Carr, who worked with Gregory for 20 years through the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the new cardinal is a “caring pastor, a quiet leader and a courageous voice when Washington and the country need all three.”
“At a time when racism is tearing our country apart, he has been a consistent, persistent voice for the dignity of all — for Black lives and for racial justice and reconciliation,” added Carr.
“We need healing, and for Pope Francis to recognize his leadership is a hopeful sign.”
Last year, Gregory was appointed archbishop of Washington after Cardinal Donald Wuerl resigned from his post amid allegations of mishandling clerical abuse cases.
During his time as the auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Chicago, Gregory has urged the church’s leaders to improve race relations, as well as the importance for young Black Catholics to see a bishop who looked like them.
“Ours is the task and the privilege of advancing the goals that were so eloquently expressed 57 years ago by such distinguished voices on that day,” Gregory said during a mass in August.
“Men and women, young and old, people of every racial and ethnic background are needed in this effort.”
“We are at a pivotal juncture in our country’s struggle for racial justice and national harmony,” he added.
The Cardinal’s primary responsibility is to elect a new pope should he step down or die.
The ceremony to install the new cardinals take place on November 28, but it was unclear whether tightening coronavirus restrictions in Italy might interfere.