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Pope names Gregory archbishop of D.C.

Cleric known for stand against abuse by NICOLE WINFIELD The Associated Press | April 5, 2019 at 2:27 a.m. | Updated April 5, 2019 at 2:27 a.m.
Archbishop designated by Pope Francis to the Archdiocese of Washington, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, speaks during a news conference at Washington Archdiocesan Pastoral Center in Hyattsville, Md., Thursday, April 4, 2019. Archbishop-designate Gregory will succeed Cardinal Donald Wuerl. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Francis on Thursday named Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory as the new archbishop of Washington D.C., choosing a moderate, and the first black archbishop to lead the archdiocese that has become the epicenter of the clergy sex abuse crisis in the U.S.

Gregory, 71, replaces Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who resigned last year after being implicated in covering up abuse by a Pennsylvania grand jury report.

Gregory headed the U.S. bishops conference when it adopted a zero-tolerance abuse policy in 2002 to respond to the first wave of the scandal. He has run the Atlanta archdiocese since 2005 and is seen as a pastor very much in line with Francis' progressive vision of the church.

"This is obviously a moment fraught with challenges throughout our entire Catholic Church, certainly, but nowhere more so than in this local faith community," Gregory said at a Thursday news conference in Washington. "And as in any family, challenges can only be overcome by a firmly articulated resolve and commitment to do better, to know Christ better, to love Christ better, to serve Christ better. I would be naive not to acknowledge the unique task that awaits us."

Gregory's appointment was first reported by Catholic News Agency.

It is the third major move by Francis to reshape the U.S. hierarchy, which over the previous two papacies took on a conservative tilt. Francis began elevating more moderate pastors in 2014, when he named Cardinal Blase Cupich as Chicago archbishop and followed up two years later by moving Joseph Tobin to Newark, N.J., and making him a cardinal.

While relatively small, the Washington archdiocese has always punched above its weight in influence given its location in the nation's capital. Its archbishops traditionally are made cardinals, meaning Gregory could become the first black cardinal.

The archdiocese, though, has become embroiled in the abuse crisis since its previous two leaders -- Wuerl and his predecessor Theodore McCarrick -- have been implicated in the scandal.

Francis in February defrocked McCarrick after a Vatican-backed investigation concluded he sexually abused minors and adults over his long career. It was the first time a cardinal had been dismissed from the priesthood for abuse.

Francis reluctantly accepted Wuerl's resignation in October after he lost the trust of his priests and parishioners in the months after the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report. The report accused Wuerl of helping to protect some child-molesting priests while he was bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006. Simultaneously, Wuerl faced widespread skepticism over his insistence that he knew nothing about McCarrick's misconduct, which was an open secret in U.S. and Vatican circles.

Gregory, by contrast, is still credited for his leadership of the U.S. church during a moment of crisis, when as president of the U.S. bishops conference he persuaded church leaders to adopt toughened penalties for abusers in 2002.

Information for this article was contributed by Jessica Gresko of The Associated Press.

A Section on 04/05/2019

Print Headline: Pope names Gregory archbishop of D.C.

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