Pope Francis appointed Wilton Gregory to the position of cardinal, making him the first Black American to receive this position.
Last year, Wilton Gregory made history as Washington, D.C.’s, first African–American archbishop. On Oct. 25, Gregory became one of 13 to be promoted to the position of cardinal. Someone becomes an archbishop because they have been named as the head of an archdiocese, which is a large collection of parishes. Archbishops oversee important administrative functions of the churches in their districts. Cardinals are above archbishops and immediately below the pope in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Some cardinals enact the same functions as archbishops but are individually picked by the pope.
Gregory has been a national figure since 2002 when he was president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. In this position, he had a key role in the adoption of a zero-tolerance policy toward priests who are found guilty of sexual abuse. He was promoted from his position as the bishop of Belleville, Illinois, to lead the Archdiocese of Atlanta in 2005.
Approximately 76% of respondents either strongly or somewhat agreed that they wanted to see more priests of different cultural backgrounds in their parishes, according to a 2016 report on cultural diversity in the Catholic Church in the United States.
Gregory’s promotion comes amid more awareness around the need for racial justice throughout the United States.
“By naming Archbishop Wilton Gregory as a cardinal, Pope Francis is sending a powerful message of hope and inclusion to the Church in the United States,” said Archbishop José H. Gomez, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a statement.
Gregory has been outspoken on racial issues and equality in the past. During protests fighting against police brutality taking place after the death of George Floyd in May, Gregory was part of a group of Catholic leaders who criticized President Donald Trump for staging a picture in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church this summer.
“I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people even those with whom we might disagree,” Gregory said in a statement.
Gregory has been a strong supporter of the LGBTQ community in the Catholic Church. He is also an advocate for immigration reform and a commissioner of a climate action plan for Catholics, according to CBS.
Nine of the 13 men named as new cardinals Oct. 25, including Gregory, are under the age of 80, which makes them eligible to participate in the next meeting to elect Francis’ successor. Many of the cardinals chosen by Francis agree with his decisions and will likely elect a successor similar to him, according to CBS. The ceremony to induct the new cardinals is set for Nov. 28 in Rome.