Pope Francis on Sunday named 13 new cardinals, including Washington DC Archbishop Wilton Gregory, an outspoken civil rights advocate who will become the first Black American to be appointed to the office in the Roman Catholic Church.
The timing of Gregory’s appointment is noteworthy. Not only is it on the heels of Pope Francis’ recent vocal support of civil unions for same-sex couples, but it also comes in the thick of increased US attention on racial injustice following the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minnesota earlier this year.
Gregory himself is an outspoken civil rights advocate who was critical of President Donald Trump’s visit to a Washington shrine honoring Pope John Paul II in June only one day after police and armed soldiers used tear gas and rubber bullets to clear protestors. Trump used the opportunity to take photographs standing in front of the historic Washington church holding up a Bible.
Gregory doubled down on his criticism of Trump during a later online conversation on Racism in Our Streets and Structures: A Test of Faith, A Crisis for Our Nation sponsored by Georgetown University’s Initiative for Catholic Social Thought and Public Life. The conversation, also held in June, was organized in light of the ongoing national protests over the continued killings of unarmed black individuals by the police. Gregory, who opened the event with a prayer that included thanks for those who “take to the streets to protest injustice,” said the criticism that he had received by those who sought to portray his on Trump remarks as partisan reminded him of the same criticisms of priests and nuns who marched during the Civil Rights era. “The Church lives in society,” he told attendees, adding that it does not live behind the four walls of the physical church.
The conversation garnered the attention of thousands, pointing to a growing trend of interest and desire among Catholics for racial justice.