Archbishop Wilton Gregory may also become the first African-American Cardinal eligible to vote for the next pope.

Pope Francis named Wilton Gregory, the former Archbishop of Atlanta, to head the Catholic Church in Washington D.C. The 71-year-old will be the first African-American to hold the senior-most U.S. position within the Catholic Church. This appointment will end a terrible period in the job whose immediate earlier occupants were embroiled in sexual abuse scandals. Gregory will also likely become a cardinal and will then be eligible to vote in the conclave which will elect Pope Francis’ successor.

Gregory commands an excellent reputation within the American Catholic Church, having served as bishop for 35 years. His term included being the president of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He will take the seat previously occupied by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who was forced to tender his resignation in October 2018 when angry Catholics in Washington questioned his role during the sexual abuse crisis. Wuerl is now the apostolic administrator of the archdiocese. It is an irony that Wuerl himself succeeded Theodore McCarrick, a former cardinal expelled by the Vatican from the priesthood after he was convicted of engaging in sexual crimes against vulnerable adults and minors.

Catholics who have personally worked with Gregory described him as a competent professional with a calm demeanor who insisted that the bishops must bring in new protocols so that children no longer get abused. He supported a “zero tolerance” policy towards clergy members who had credible accusations against them. It is clear Gregory will have a hard task in front of him, as two of his immediate predecessors have witnessed their legacies tarnished by yet another wave of scandals which has eroded the Vatican from the inside.

Gregory, who in his teenage years converted to Catholicism, is regarded as a progressive who prefers a dialog over confrontation. He has neatly side-stepped the American Catholic Church’s shrill culture wars over hot button issues like homosexuality and abortion. The Washington appointment carries maximum influence in the U.S. due to its geographical advantage of being near to political power. Gregory’s predecessors to the post have lent ears to U.S. Presidents, educational leaders, and foreign diplomats. The United States Embassy to the Vatican has pointed out that Gregory’s appointment has coincided with the 51st anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the iconic black rights leader.

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