Local Catholic leaders welcome new archbishop; hesitance from sex abuse survivor org

Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory was named as the new archbishop of Washington Thursday, and while some Catholic leaders welcome Gregory, a network of abuse survivors is concerned about his past.

Gregory is the first African-American to lead the Archdiocese of Washington, which has been marred by the implication of its previous two leaders in the clergy sex abuse scandal.

Gregory, 71, replaces Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who led the Archdiocese of Washington for 12 years and resigned last year after being connected in covering up abuse by a Pennsylvania grand jury report. Wuerl submitted his resignation to Pope Francis three years ago when he turned 75, as is custom for all cardinals.

“I have known Archbishop Gregory for many years. In working with him on a range of pastoral initiatives and programs, I have come to recognize how generously he shares his talents and his love for the Church,” said Wuerl in a Thursday statement.

Part of the role of leading the Archdiocese of Washington, which is home to more than 655,000 Catholics worshiping in 139 parishes throughout D.C. and five Maryland counties, is to serve as the Chancellor of the Catholic University of America. Gregory had served the university as a member of the Board of Trustees for the past 14 years.

In a letter regarding Gregory’s appointment to lead the diocese, Catholic University President John Garvey welcomed Gregory to the role, touting his experience as the president of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops during the sexual abuse crisis in 2002 and the implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People under his leadership.

“I look forward to cooperating with him on efforts that seek to combat the evil of sexual abuse and to contribute to the renewal and rebuilding of the Church,” Garvey said. “My prayers are with Archbishop-elect Gregory as he assumes a new role in this critical moment for the Church.”

Reverend Robert Boxie, parochial vicar of the St. Joseph Catholic Church in Largo, Maryland — which is predominantly African American — said he was excited to serve under Gregory’s leadership of the Archdiocese of Washington as he tries to move the church forward from the recent scandals.

“I think he’s an ideal candidate for it,” Boxie said. “Especially with what he’s done in Atlanta, with what he did as president of the bishops conference. I’m just very excited to see his ministry unfold here in Washington.”

Boxie also said that while the new archbishop’s race was not as relevant as his experience and leadership capabilities, it was exciting to see an African American appointed to the position.

“For the Black Catholic church here in Washington, the Black Catholic church in the United States, I think it’s hugely important,” Boxie said. “It sends a very strong signet and a vote of confidence for the contributions of Black Catholicism to the United States and the church in America.”

And while Gregory is credited for his leadership during a time of crisis for the U.S. Catholic church, a leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests who spoke to WTOP said she is troubled by Gregory’s past and is cautious to fervently support him.

“He seems somewhat as a reformer because he held the position of President of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops … But we have some concerns and a lot of reservations about what he’s going to do,” SNAP spokeswoman Becky Ianni told WTOP.

Gregory was found in contempt of court in 2004 for refusing to turn over abuse records. Ianni said Gregory also refused to post the names of priests in the Archdiocese of Atlanta when SNAP asked him to do so in 2016.

“To us, that’s not open and transparent,” said Ianni. “To me that doesn’t say he’s looking out for victims, that says he’s looking out for the church.”

She said the Archdiocese of Washington needs someone “with a clean record” who can lead the church.

“We’ve already had a cardinal here that was not transparent. Who in fact lied several times about what he knew about Cardinal McCarrick,” Ianni said. Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was defrocked in February after the Vatican found him guilty of sex abuse.

Ianni said some steps Gregory can do to heal the church is to go to every parish and encourage victims to come forward.

But a bishop or a cardinal on the local level can only do so much to reform the Church, said Ianni.

“We’re still looking for Pope Francis to take the steps necessary to really make change and change the culture of the church,” she said.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report.

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