In his opening words as the new leader of Catholics in the nation’s capital, Archbishop Wilton Gregory acknowledged the tempests facing the Church, telling the 3,000 people on hand for his installation that faith in Christ, “not any single minister,” will calm the Church’s storms.
Although he never uttered the phrase “sexual abuse,” Gregory referenced the “waves of unsettling revelations” which he said has “caused even the hardiest among us to grow fearful and perhaps even, at times, to want to panic.”
“We have been tossed about by an unusually turbulent moment in our own faith journeys recently and for far too long,” he said during his homily on Tuesday, before noting that, “Our recent sorrow and shame do not define us; rather, they serve to chasten and strengthen us to face tomorrow with spirits undeterred.”
Gregory succeeds Cardinal Donald Wuerl as the seventh archbishop of Washington. Wuerl’s resignation was accepted by Pope Francis in October following scrutiny of his handling of sex abuse cases earlier in his career.
Drawing on the Book of Mark’s Gospel readings of Christ in a boat with his disciples and calming the stormy seas, Gregory said that “life on the sea continues to serve as a worthy metaphor for us – as people of faith.”
Gregory returned to that metaphor throughout his homily, both to describe the Church’s ongoing crisis over clergy sexual abuse and to describe the type of leader he hopes to be as he helps a divided church steady its course.
“While I know in my heart – and I believe that you know in your hearts as well – that Jesus is in the boat with us during tempestuous times, I confess that I don’t possess the words to put every soul at ease, to assuage every fear, to lessen every pain,” he said.
Catholics in the nation’s capital have felt the pain of the clergy abuse scandals in an acute way since last June when revelations were made public about its former archbishop Theodore McCarrick. In February, McCarrick, who led the archdiocese from 2001 to 2006 and was one of the nation’s most prominent Catholic cardinals, was removed from the clerical state by Francis after a Vatican trial into his abuse of minors.
Since then, questions have lingered over the U.S. hierarchy about who potentially knew and covered up for his actions, including a reexamination of Wuerl’s record on the matter. On Tuesday, Gregory was welcomed to the archdiocese by Wuerl, and in return, Gregory referred to him as “a cherished friend” and “a true Christian gentleman.”
Gregory sought to assure Catholics on hand for the occasion that even in the midst of such a tumultuous season for the Church, Christ had not abandoned them.
“But I do remind you – even as I sometimes have to remind myself – that He is here. He is here when the seas are calm, and He is here during every moment of uncertainty, anger, fear, and shame,” he said.
“He invites us to place our trust in Him – not in trite and easy answers or programs – but in Him and Him alone,” he continued. “He will calm and steady His Church not through any single minister. Rather, He wants nothing more than for us to trust Him to bring us back safely to shore and even be bolstered by the trials that we have endured. And He always does.”
Gregory first rose to prominence in the U.S. Church as the leader of the U.S. bishops from 2001 to 2004 who shepherded the Church during the fallout of the sexual abuse crisis in 2002 and will now bookend his career by once more tackling clergy abuse.
In 2002, he – heroically, by some accounts – walked a tightrope battling the concerns of lay faithful demanding accountability and Vatican officials who were reluctant to relent to American demands of stricter punishment for priests.
Click here to read more.