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Analysis: Gregory’s road to Washington

According to several sources at the Congregation for Bishops, Ed Condon reports, it was Cardinal Cupich who proved instrumental in cementing Gregory’s nomination.

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory speaks during a news conference in the pastoral center at the Archdiocese of Washington April 4, 2019, after Pope Francis named him to head the archdiocese. He had headed the Atlanta Archdiocese since 2005. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

By Ed Condon

Washington D.C., Apr 4, 2019 / 04:40 am (CNA).- The appointment of Archbishop Wilton Gregory to succeed Cardinal Donald Wuerl brings an end to one of the most anticipated and drawn out episcopal appointment processes in recent memory.

Gregory’s arrival in Washington follows months of intense speculation in the United States, with many bishops sharing the frustrations of local clerics and laity at the apparent delay in replacing Wuerl after his resignation was accepted in October.

But the process of selecting the next Archbishop of Washington was no less frustrating for those in Rome charged with making it happen.

Ordinarily, when a bishop resigns, the apostolic nuncio – in this case also resident in Washington – collects and submits a list of possible candidates, drawn from the recommendations of local clergy, nearby bishops, and his own observations.

The outgoing bishop usually sends his own thoughts and recommendations to Rome, where the Congregation for Bishops examines the candidates before, in conjunction with the nuncio, presenting a final list of three names for the pope to consider.

That, at any rate, is how the process has traditionally operated. But the process for replacing Wuerl has been anything other than ‘business as usual.’

Wuerl, along with fellow American Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, is a member of the Congregation for Bishops. Both cardinals have played an active role in the process of considering a long list of names proposed for Washington, travelling to Rome for the Congregation’s regular sessions and weighing in with their own thoughts and suggestions over the past several months.

With Congress and the White House virtually in his backyard, Washington’s archbishop is often expected to play an outspoken role in public debate, while keeping the Church above the political fray.

One of Wuerl’s great strengths as archbishop has been his ability to tread a narrow line: engaging with public affairs without appearing to take partisan political sides.

Finding a successor with the same skill-set was a bedrock concern for Rome.

One of the most talked-about potential successors for Wuerl was Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark. An outspoken advocate for migrant and refugee rights, both in New Jersey and previously in Indiana, Tobin is known to be comfortable addressing hot-button issues.

Created a cardinal while still Bishop of Indianapolis, Tobin is also known to have the respect of Pope Francis who – according to multiple sources in the curia, including at the Congregation for Bishops – was personally in favor of his appointment to Washington.

While many speculated that Tobin would be a natural fit in an increasingly polarized Washington, sources say that objections were raised – including by several Congregation members – about how such a move would be perceived in the fallout of the scandals that rocked the Church in the United States last year.

The disgrace of Wuerl’s immediate predecessor, Theodore McCarrick, has made the archdioceses he once led – Washington and Newark – the epicenters of the recent abuse crisis in America.

While the Archdiocese of Newark continues to grapple with its own legacy of scandal from the McCarrick era, some at the Congregation expressed concern that moving Tobin to Washington would be poorly received by local Catholics hoping for a bishop wholly unconnected to the McCarrick scandal.

According to multiple sources in Rome, one of the strongest voices in favor of a “clean break” replacement in Washington was Wuerl himself.

In addition to cautioning against another Newark-Washington move, sources also told CNA that Wuerl expressed deep reservations about other candidates who, though often touted as potential successors to Washington, had some connection to McCarrick or the scandal he created.

While various names were proposed, with Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport known to have been suggested at one point, none were able to achieve both consensus at the Congregation and papal approval.

The eventual consensus that formed around Gregory’s name appears to have been shaped by a number of factors.

As the president of the USCCB between 2001 and 2004, Gregory is no stranger to dealing with the fallout of scandal, having played a leading role in the formation and implementation of the Dallas Charter and USCCB Essential Norms after the last sex abuse crisis.

Together with Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, Gregory is part of a special task-force charged by the U.S. bishops with developing new proposals for enhanced episcopal accountability.

A Chicago native, Gregory arrived in Atlanta fourteen years ago, having previously served as Bishop of Belleville and as an auxiliary in his home diocese.

Known to preserve close ties to his hometown, Gregory was at one time considered a likely candidate to follow Cardinal Francis George in Chicago. According to several sources at the Congregation for Bishops, it was George’s eventual successor, Cardinal Cupich, who proved instrumental in cementing Gregory’s nomination.

In addition to his distance from McCarrick’s former dioceses and his experience in responding to abuse scandals, Gregory’s appointment also represents a long-awaited historic moment in the Church in America.

As the first African-American archbishop of an unquestionably top-tier diocese, he will be expected to be made a cardinal in the near future, possibly even before Cardinal Wuerl ages out of eligibility to vote in a papal conclave when he turns 80, more than a year from now.

Gregory himself is 71, and arrives in Washington fewer than four years from the normal retirement age for bishops. While he faces a difficult final task in restoring confidence among the capital’s faithful, his age may have weighed in favor of his appointment, because he comes with a built-in option either to retire at 75 if he does not take to the role, or to continue in office past 75 if he does.

There will be some in Rome and Washington who will greet Gregory warmly, while quietly viewing him as a stop-gap appointment, a compromise after months of curial back-and-forth.

But Gregory could confound such a view, by turning his age to his advantage.

Gregory could, if he so chose, seize the opportunity to be more than a temporary steadying hand. As Archbishop of Washington, likely a cardinal too, his will be one of the loudest voices in the Church in the U.S.

If he so chooses, the new archbishop could write himself into history as the face of transparency and reform in the American hierarchy, especially given the freedom that will come from having to lead his diocese for only a few years’ time.

Alternatively, he could opt to see out his term quietly, restoring a sense of normalcy to a diocese hit hard by scandal.

The saying goes: “beware the old man in a hurry.” It remains to be seen what kind of hurry Gregory will be in, and how urgently and deeply he intends to leave his mark on Washington.

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  1. I have no trust in a man like Archbishop Gregory, who has been shown to have promoted unchastity and gender ideology in Atlanta.

    He = The McCarrick Establishment.

    Indeed, he worked with McCarrick and his colleague the co-abusing Msgr. (I forget his name…he was from New Hampshire if I recall?) who concocted the 2002 “Virtus” Child Protection farce.

    Mindful of The Lord, “to be wise as a serpent,” this is just another McCarrick clone…a man who wears the miter on Sunday in front of the parents, and teaches sexual disintegration in the seminary and university on Monday through Friday.

  2. The Road to Washington began several decades past when then Bishop Gregory after castigation from fellow bishops for his asserting to the media that the Catholic priesthood was a haven for homosexuals had a gradual change of heart. His appointment has virtually nothing to do with a “Clean break replacement in Washington”. The more apparent reason is his conversion since his earlier protestation against homosexuality in the priesthood to his now fervent support of homosexuality full spectrum LGBT. Perhaps his tutelage under doctrinal iconoclast Archbishop Bernadin was behind it or perhaps another ‘out of the closet’ empathy for the once naively presumed disenfranchised homosexual cleric. The current pontificate by all indication champions the once demeaned homosexual cleric and follows the forced [forced on Pope Francis who had by then no choice] ouster of McCarrick, who according to Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano Pope Francis appointed to high post despite McCarrick’s sanction by Benedict XVI-to repeat follows with continuity. Not at all “a clean break replacement”.

    • Thank you, Fr Morello. I agree!. I have NO faith in the appointments of Francis. The Church is in a terrible situation now. When, when is an full investigation into the Vigano Testimony going to happen AND a full investigation into the McCarrick Mess going to happen? I can answer my own question……NEVER. Francis is hoping that because McCarrick now gone, that the whole incident will be forgotten. Just how stupid does he think the laity is? He does not want an investigation into the Vigano Testimony because it will show he, himself, guilty of turning his back on the actions by not only McCarrick but many other bishops and cardinals as well which would REQUIRE his resignation. What a mess! And Francis stacking the College of Cardinals with his men assures the new pope will continue this disgusting legacy. I love the Church and always will. I love the priesthood, the bishops and the cardinals, but I love God more! Father, we need help! We need someone, some group, some coalition to press for and argue for these investigations so that God’s justice prevails! What can be do? Suggestions? I don’t mean to sound disrespectful but the time for talk has pasted. We need action!

  3. Anyone selected to succeed Cardinal Wuerl in Washington, D.C. has the chance to seize the moment—to make it clear that Wuerl is right about making a convincingly “clean break” in D.C. (and elsewhere), and then in some gracious way to also message that while the appointment calls for humility and gratitude, the appointee owes absolutely no political debts to whatever influence any McCarrick beneficiary, especially, might have had in negotiating a wise selection.

    Nothing overly-political need by implied here; it’s simply that even mere appearances are part of real transparency and future effectiveness. We need confidence that Wilton Gregory will be his own person–and appear to be his own person, such that from the start he can then get it right. Good and historic things can happen in D.C. on his watch.

  4. The appointment of Archbishop Gregory will lead many astray in The Washington, D.C. diocese. He has a long history of progressive teaching, and it is not surprising that Cardinal Cupich, appointed by Pope Francis, had a decisive voice in his appointment. Cupich is himself a progressive and, along with Gregory, a member of the Congregation of Bishops. He and Gregory have both been swayed by current world secularism and that influences their teaching. They are afraid to teach the word of God. Pray to God for help.

  5. Cupich, Tobin, Gregory… It honestly feels like the Church is holding auditions for “The Bad Cage.” Given every chance at making good choices, the leadership fumbles. It’s an endless loop. A spectacle that’s amazing and demoralizing. Not to mention dumbfounding. Moving a 70 year old man to a new city… fairlyncrazy when its the papacy, and quite crazy here.

  6. This is pathetic. Cupich, Gregory, J.Tobin, McElroy, Wuerl: All members of the Lavender Mafia. These people need to be removed from public ministry.

  7. Jeff Am Bishops Lori Baltimore O’Malley Boston developed a process including Laity for allegations v all clergy, Hierarchy. Now it’s up to other Ordinaries to consult and adopt. Problematic is the ad hoc authority the Pope gives to Cardinal Cupich, which has undermined their efforts. Then it’s the Pope’s unique prerogative to act on any evidence regarding bishops. He’s been inconsistent seeming to favor, protect some abandoning other like Cardinal Pell.
    Insofar as Archbishop Wilton Gregory my hope is now that he shepherds a most prestigious See that like Saint Thomas Becket a close friend of Henry II once he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury he renounced his previous commitment to the King and swore total allegiance to Christ. We should pray for such conversions of allegiance.

  8. Wilton Gregory is unfit to be a Catholic priest. Politically, he is far to the left of Donald Wuerl. He has promoted the homosexual culture in Atlanta and contributed mightily to the destruction of the faith in that diocese. This is a classic Bergoglio appointment, giving the lie to every sterile word about “reform.” The revolution of destruction in the Church continues unabated.

  9. Another opportunity for the bottom-of-the-barrel commentators (and writers?) on this site to whine and complain about awful the Church is because the next leader won’t stone gays or something. That the Catholic church was growing in Atlanta while Wilton was there seems to be missed or conveniently glossed over for the usual obsession over the “homo scourge.”

    Don’t wait now! Rev up your favorite buzzwords, like “lavender mafia” and proceed to type furiously for the next few years!

    • Joe K:

      Realistically – and in all fairness – we should be blaming homosexual abuser clericslists for only 80% of the horrific sexual abuse and the associated gigantic pay-outs.

      The other 20% goes to their colleagues, the heterosexual abuser clericalists like Bishop Kieran Conroy.

      That’s fair play.

      And asking them all to step down is simply asking for basic honesty.

  10. Of course the Church in Atlanta was growing…along with a significant increase…a population surge/influx into metro Atlanta…or is the referenced growth here “more inclusive” Liturgies and “more progressive” teaching?

    Speaking for myself (and on behalf of other “bottom of the barrel” commentators/writers here?) in response to a straw man ( “because the next leader won’t stone gays or something”)…I don’t want anyone to be stoned or harmed in any way…nor do I want the Faith stoned to death or harmed…nor do I want even more minors or individuals victimized…and then nothing much happens? But I will also say this: I do NOT want the family members and friends of a “lavender mafia” favored, shielded from the law…and then the laity scandalized…and then the Faith abandoned.

    But here’s the best part: there is no need to even refer to a “lavender mafia.” Just go after abusers, criminals, I say, and do the proverbial “follow the money.” Along the way, point out hiring schemes/networks of ANY persuasion simply as hiring schemes/networks (using cold, boring flow charts). No need for “hurtful labels” or as I have previously stated in other posts, without need for “deep” analysis, attempts at explaining causes.

    Whether folks type “furiously” or with a nod towards calm minimalism here or elsewhere…what will matter increasingly is the typing of civil authorities in subpoenas and criminal charges.

    Getting the “other side” riled up (a pretty low standard, easily achieved) vs. resolving a crisis…that’s the more telling preference in any discussion of a problem…and why “making a mess” is also a low standard: a rejection of intrinsic purpose/objective truth and ultimately a rejection of happiness.

  11. The man formerly known as Cdn McCarrick still lives on the faithful’s dime at the friary in Victoria, KS.
    Does the RCC / USCCB enjoy spitting in the face of faithful Catholics who understand and obey the Ten Commandments and precepts of the Church?
    It certainly seems so.
    Dear God in Heaven please come soon.

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