The Washington, D.C., archbishop who slammed President Donald Trump’s visit to a Roman Catholic shrine in the city has become the first African American cardinal.
Archbishop Wilton Daniel Gregory, 72, is one of 13 men who assumed the rank of cardinal in ceremonies Nov. 28. Cardinals rank only behind the pope in church hierarchy, and together they vote to elect popes. Cardinals wear red to signify their willingness to shed blood in service of the church. “With a very grateful and humble heart, I thank Pope Francis for this appointment which will allow me to work more closely with him in caring for Christ’s Church,” Gregory said in a statement in October.
Gregory made national news in June for comments after Trump and first lady Melania Trump’s held a brief photo opportunity at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine – a day after Trump’s controversial visit to St. John’s Episcopal Church. The church had been slightly damaged after it was set ablaze during protests of death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in the custody of Minneapolis police. Authorities then used smoke canisters and pepper spray to clear a path for the president to walk to St. John’s, the historic building known as the church of presidents.
“I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people even those with whom we might disagree,” Gregory said in a statement then. Jim Bretzke, a priest, author and professor of theology at John Carroll University in Ohio, says Gregory’s promotion is noteworthy given his clash with Trump. Normally, one important key to success in the church is to stay out of the news, Bretzke says.
“While ‘no news is good news’ may have been the usual advice given to hierarchs on the rise, clearly for Francis it depends on what sort of news is generated,” Bretzky said. “The pope certainly would have known of Gregory’s remarks, and in that context still decided to make him a cardinal.” Terence McKiernan is president of Bishopaccountability.org, a group seeking accountability of U.S. bishops under civil, criminal and church law for clergy sexual abuse. McKiernan credits Gregory with shepherding through the U.S. Conference of Bishops in 2002 the only church law that stipulates zero-tolerance on sexual abuse.