Thomas Reese: Washington DC Gets a Great Bishop in Wilton Gregory

Archbishop Wilton Gregory, of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, speaks during a news conference at the Richmond County Courthouse on Jan. 31, 2017, in Augusta, Ga.(AP Photo/Heidi Heilbrunn)

The appointment of Wilton Gregory as archbishop of Washington, D.C., is good news for the church, the city and the country.

The only drawback is his age. Gregory, 71, will have to submit his resignation when he reaches 75, the age when every bishop must submit his resignation. Whoever the pope is in December of 2022 will then decide whether to accept it.

If Gregory wants to accomplish anything, then, he will have to hit the ground running. Normally, new bishops, if they are smart, spend the first year or two listening to their priests and people before beginning to act. At his age, there is no possibility of having a 10-year plan for the archdiocese.

Is he up to the challenge? Yes.

Gregory has been a bishop for almost half his life, beginning as an auxiliary bishop at 36 years of age, only one year over the minimum age required by church law. Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, Gregory’s patron and mentor, saw his potential and fostered his career.

Nor did Bernardin use him the way most diocesan bishops use their black auxiliaries — that is, put him in charge of an inner-city parish. Rather, Bernardin made sure Gregory was prepared to shepherd a diverse flock. This served him well when, in 1994, he was appointed bishop of Belleville, Ill., where he was the sole African-American clergyman.

He was also thrown into the clergy abuse mess in Belleville, where he suspended five priests as bishop. But over time his response gained mostly positive reviews. This experience served him and the church well when he became president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2001, just before the Boston sex abuse catastrophe broke. As president of the conference, he was a real leader pushing the bishops kicking and screaming to adopt the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002.

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Source: Religion News Service