“They absolutely want to get this one right,” the source told CNA.
While Gregory, 71, is generally well-regarded among U.S. bishops as an administrator, one bishop told CNA that some expected his age might discourage him from accepting the appointment.
In Washington, Gregory would likely be expected to provide a period of steady leadership in Washington for the near term, while leaving open the possibility he could carry on past the normal retirement age for bishops of 75.
The Archbishop of Washington is generally viewed as one of the most influential Churchmen in the United States; the five most recent archbishops were all created cardinals - including the now-laicized Theodore McCarrick. The Archbishop of Washington is generally expected to walk a narrow line: articulating the Church’s teaching in the middle of the national political conversation, without appearing to be partisan.
Gregory’s appointment to the archdiocese would follow months of scandal in the Church in the United States, and his selection would likely have been made, at least in part, in recognition of his experience in dealing with the fallout of the last major abuse crisis in the Church.
Serving a term as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2001 to 2004, Gregory was responsible for helping to lead the American hierarchy through the fallout of the Church’s 2002 sexual abuse scandals. He oversaw the formation and implementation of the “Dallas Charter” and USCCB’s “Essential Norms” in 2002.
As a past USCCB president, Gregory is part of a working group - together with Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz - charged by the U.S. bishops with examining and developing proposed reforms for enhancing episcopal accountability.
As the first African-American Archbishop of Washington, Gregory’s appointment would also be viewed as a historic milestone for the Church in the United States, especially since the archbishop is likely to be created the first African-American cardinal.
Within the Archdiocese of Washington itself, Gregory’s appointment would likely bring a welcome end to months of speculation.
While Washington’s near 700,000 Catholics are a considerably smaller flock than the 1.2 million Gregory has led in Atlanta, the capital archdiocese is home to a broad diversity of communities, which include the deeply enculturated African-American parishes in the southeast of the city, the affluent parishes of northern parts of the city, large communities of Latin American immigrants, thousands of university students, and the rural communities of southern Maryland.
A Chicago native, Gregory converted to Catholicism as a student in a Chicago Catholic grade school. In 1971, he was ordained a priest in Chicago by Cardinal John Cody. Consecrated bishop at age 36, Gregory served as an auxiliary bishop in his home diocese under Cardinal Joseph Bernardin from 1983 until 1994.
The archbishop is known to have preserved close ties with his home city, and with archdiocesan leadership in Chicago.
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In 1994 Gregory became the Bishop of Belleville, Illinois, where he remained for ten years before moving to Atlanta in 2004. Since his arrival in Atlanta, Gregory has ordained 64 men to the priesthood and overseen the welcoming of more than 16,000 people as converts into the Catholic Church.
Calls requesting comment from the Archdiocese of Washington went unreturned. The Archdiocese of Atlanta did not respond to questions as of press time.