WASHINGTON — Pope Francis has named Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory as the new archbishop of Washington D.C., choosing a moderate, and the first African-American, to lead the archdiocese that has become the epicenter of the clergy sex abuse crisis in the U.S.
The 71-year-old Gregory replaces Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who resigned last year after being implicated in covering up abuse by a Pennsylvania grand jury report.
Gregory believes strongly in learning from past mistakes and moving forward, according to a press conference.
"I come to you humbly, knowing all too well and conceding my own shortcomings and limitations," Gregory said in the press conference. "But I am bolstered by the knowledge that we are the Lord's, and nd that together in the Lord we can move forward, neither forgetting the past nor being constrained by it."
Gregory was born in Chicago in 1947. He attended St. Carthage Grammar School where he converted to Catholicism. Gregory later attended Quigley Preparatory Seminary South, Niles College, which is now St. Joseph's College Seminary, of Loyola University and St. Mary of the Lake Seminary.
Gregory said he hopes to be leader to the entire D.C. family.
"The archdiocese of Washington is home to the poor an d the powerful, neither of which realizes they are both," Gregory said. "You embrace a wide host of races, cultures and languages. You are young and old. I seek to be a pastor for this entire family."
Gregory was ordained in 1973, and three years later began graduate school at the Pontifical Liturgical Institute in Rome where he earned his doctorate in sacred liturgy '80.
In 1983, Gregory was ordained as an auxiliary bishop of Chicago. In 1994, he was installed as the seventh bishop of the Diocese of Belleville, IL, and served there for the next 11 years.
Archbishop Gregory has been awarded nine honorary doctoral degrees, and was honored with the Cardinal Bernardin Award, which is given by the Catholic Common Ground Initiative.
Gregory headed the U.S. bishops conference when it adopted a "zero-tolerance" abuse policy in 2002 to respond to the first wave of the scandal. He has run the Atlanta archdiocese since 2005 and is seen as a pastor very much in line with Francis' progressive vision of the church.
"I want to come to know you, to hear your stories," Gregory said. "To listen to the emotions, the experiences and expectations that have shaped your precious Catholic faith, for better or for worse."
The Vatican on Thursday announced the appointment, which was first reported by Catholic News Agency.
"I want to offer you hope, I will rebuild your trust," Gregory said. "I cannot undo the past, but I sincerely believe that together we will not merely 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 for our families for those who will follow us — that is my greatest, indeed it is my only aspiration."