First, we want to offer our heartiest congratulations to Cardinal-elect Wilton D. Gregory, the Archbishop of Washington who will become the first African-American cardinal at a Nov 28 consistory at the Vatican.
That alone is worth rejoicing.
The 3 million African-American Catholics in the United States have been faithful members of the Church for generations, and the elevation of Cardinal-elect Gregory by Pope Francis is an important recognition of their place in the Catholic family.
The honor also recognizes the spiritual gifts and leadership skills that the cardinal-elect has demonstrated in his 47 years as a priest, a bishop and an archbishop.
Most notably, as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in the early 2000s when the clergy sexual abuse scandals escalated, he steered his fellow bishops through the most serious crisis ever faced by the modern American Church.
Employing calm and steady leadership, he steered the body towards adoption the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People at the bishops’ 2002 annual meeting in Dallas, Texas— a document that has formed the basis of the Church’s response to the challenge ever since.
A Chicago native, Cardinal-elect Gregory, 72, did not grow up in a Catholic family but he attended Catholic schools. He has said he knew from the time he was in sixth grade that not only did he want to be a Catholic, but he wanted to be a priest!
He never wavered from that path. Inspired by the priests of St. Carthage parish and the Adrian Dominican Sisters who taught him, he was baptized as a Catholic during the Easter Vigil of the 1958-1959 school year.
Ordained a priest of the Chicago Archdiocese in 1973, he served as a parish priest and also continued his studies toward a doctorate in sacred liturgy in Rome. Back in Chicago, he served as master of ceremonies to two cardinals before his ordination as an auxiliary bishop in 1983.
He was appointed a diocesan ordinary in 1994, becoming Bishop of the Belleville Diocese in southern Illinois, where he served for 11 years. St. John Paul II appointed Bishop Gregory to serve as the archbishop of Atlanta, where he was installed in 2005 and served until Pope Francis named his as the new archbishop of Washington in 2019.
It’s been a privilege for those of us who chronicle the U.S. Church to have watched Cardinal-elect Gregory rise through the ranks. We look forward to having yet another holy shepherd and gifted leader to lead the American flock.
We’d also like to congratulate Cardinal-elect Silvano Tomasi, a member of the Scalabrinian order who served in New York for many years and will also receive the red hat at the Nov. 28 consistory. Although he turned 80 last month and therefore will not be eligible to vote for pope in the next conclave, his elevation is nevertheless an appreciation of his long and faithful service to the Church.
He was a founder of the Center for Migration Studies based on Staten Island and also served a term as the U.S. Provincial of the Scalabrinians, based in Manhattan.
A naturalized American citizen, the cardinal-elect traveled the country as director of pastoral care in the U.S. bishops’ office of Migration and Refugee Services from 1983 to 1987. A series of Vatican diplomatic posts followed, and on Nov. 1 Pope Francis appointed him as special delegate to the Order of Malta.
On a related note, as much as we applaud the elevation of Cardinal-elect Gregory, we’d also like to see an American cardinal appointed west of the Rocky Mountains. This is a big country, and the western states are an important part of it economically, historically, in population and as a center of growth.
We think it’s worth consideration.