The newly named archbishop of Washington said he wants to heal the D.C. Catholic community after a sexual abuse scandal has eroded trust between the clergy and its followers.
Wilton Gregory, the former archbishop of Atlanta, appeared at a news conference Thursday to accept his appointment from Rome and address the challenges that face the Archdiocese of Washington.
“I want to offer you hope,” Gregory said. “I will rebuild your trust.”
Gregory is a moderate and the first African American to lead the Archdiocese of Washington, whose previous two leaders were implicated in the clergy sex abuse scandal.
“This is obviously a moment fraught with challenges throughout our entire Catholic Church, certainly, but nowhere more so than in this local faith community,” said Gregory during the news conference.
“As in any family, challenges can only be overcome by firmly articulated resolve and commitment to do better,” he said.
Gregory, 71, replaces Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who led the archdiocese for 12 years but resigned last year following the publication of a Pennsylvania grand jury report that was critical of his handling of sexual abuse claims against priests.
Wuerl’s predecessor, Theodore McCarrick, was defrocked by Pope Francis after a Vatican-backed investigation found he sexually abused children and adults during his career. It was the first time a cardinal was dismissed from the priesthood for abuse.
“I would be naive not to acknowledge the unique task that awaits us,” said Gregory. “Yet I know … that I can and will rely upon the grace of God and on the goodness of the people of this local church to help me fulfill those new responsibilities.”
As the archbishop of Washington, Gregory becomes the head of more than 655,000 Catholics in 139 parishes throughout D.C. and five Maryland counties. Part of his new responsibilities also includes serving as the Chancellor of the Catholic University of America, where he has sat on the Board of Trustees for 14 years.
Speaking during the news conference, Gregory said he wants to get to know the worshippers in his community and listen to how their experiences have shaped their Catholic faith, for better of for worse.
“I cannot undo the past, but I sincerely believe that, together, we will not only address the moments where we’ve fallen short or failed outright, but we will model for all the life and teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we will reclaim the future.”