Pope Francis is doing some major house cleaning. On Sunday, he named 13 new cardinals, including Washington, D.C., Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who will become the first Black U.S. prelate to earn the coveted red hat.
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 timing of Gregory’s rise to cardinal also is noteworthy, coming in the thick of increased U.S. attention on racial injustice following the police killing of George Floyd 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.
Because Gregory has served three times as the head of the U.S. Conference of Bishops, he has his pulse on liberal and conservative factions in the U.S. Catholic Church.
Conservative prelates in the United States have openly lambasted Francis for his more liberal stands, including his voiced support for same-sex civil unions that grabbed headlines last week.
LGBTQ advocates in the U.S. celebrated Gregory's selection. While he headed the Atlanta diocese earlier in his career, he wrote positively in a column about his conversations with Catholic parents of LGBTQ children. Francis DeBernardo, an advocate for LGBTQ Catholics, 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.”
The Pope's surprise announcement was made from his studio window to the faithful standing below in St. Peter’s Square, where he said the churchmen would be elevated to a cardinal’s rank in a ceremony on Nov. 28.
Francis asked for prayers so the new cardinals “may help me in my ministry as bishop of Rome for the good of all God’s faithful holy people.”
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.
Also among the chosen 13 is Archbishop Antoine Kambanda of Kigali, Rwanda.