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Archbishop Gregory pledges to 'offer hope, rebuild trust'

Archbishop Wilton Gregory addreses an April 4 press conference at the Archdiocese of Washington's Pastoral Center in Hyattsville, Maryland, four hours after the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had appointed him as the new archbishop of Washington. He succeeds Cardinal Donald Wuerl, seen at left, who served as Washington's archbishop from 2006 to 2018. (ADW photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann)

Just hours after the Vatican announced April 4 that Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory will be the new archbishop of Washington, the prelate held a news conference, promising to be truthful with the people of the archdiocese and to work for healing in this local Church that has been affected by the clergy abuse scandal.

“Today I humbly begin a new chapter in my life and pastoral ministry as I accept the appointment from Pope Francis to become the archbishop of Washington,” Archbishop Gregory said in the press conference at the Archdiocese of Washington's Pastoral Center in Hyattsville, Maryland. “This is obviously a moment fraught with challenges throughout our entire Catholic Church, but no more so than here in this local faith community.”

Archbishop Gregory, whose installation as the archbishop of Washington is scheduled for May 21 at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, said that “so much of what we are facing now” with the abuse crisis “is a misuse of clerical power intended in too many cases to dominate and destroy lives.”

“I am arriving (in the Archdiocese of Washington) with a commitment to transparency,” he said. “The only way I can serve this archdiocese is by telling you the truth. I will always tell you the truth.”

As the seventh archbishop of Washington, Archbishop Gregory replaces Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who served as archbishop here from 2006 until Pope Francis accepted his resignation last fall. Since then, Cardinal Wuerl has served as the archdiocese's apostolic administrator.

Archbishop Gregory will take the helm of an archdiocese that was rocked last summer when its former archbishop, then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, was investigated by the Vatican for allegations of abuse of minors and sexual misconduct with adults, resigned from the College of Cardinals and eventually was removed from the priesthood.

In addition, a Pennsylvania Grand Jury report criticized Cardinal Wuerl for his handling of some clergy sexual abuse cases while he served as bishop of Pittsburgh. Last October, Pope Francis accepted Cardinal Wuerl’s resignation, which he originally submitted in November 2015 after turning 75.

Calling the rebuilding of trust and healing from the scandal of clergy “a unique task that awaits us,” Archbishop Gregory said, “I want to come to know you. I want to hear your stories. I want to offer you hope. I will rebuild your trust.”

Assuring the faithful that “I come to you humbly,” Archbishop Gregory said that he is “bolstered by the knowledge that we are the Lord’s, and together in the Lord we can move forward, neither forgetting the past or being constrained by it.”

He promised to work “with utmost integrity” for healing in the archdiocese as he serves his new family of faith here.

“I can and I will rely on the grace of God and the goodness of people in the local Church to fulfill that responsibility. I want to come to know you, hear your stories,” he said. “As with any family, (addressing) challenges only comes with a firmly articulated resolve and commitment to know Christ better, to love Christ better and to serve Christ better,” Archbishop Gregory said.

He pledged to “model for all the love and teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and reclaim the future for our families and those who follow us.”

Fielding questions from the Washington press, Archbishop Gregory was asked about the laity who are angry and feel that withholding donations to the Church is the only way they can express that anger. He lamented that the Church “does not provide enough vehicles for the laity to have a voice except through their wallets.”

“I hope to find other vehicles,” he said. “Funds given to the Church are given for works of ministry. I will always respect the intent of the donors.”

“Let us begin an earnest prayer life today…. so healing can begin,” he said, adding that God would “heal the hearts of people that are so in need of the healing that only Jesus Christ can provide.”

He noted that as he assumes his new post, he will not be spending much time in the archdiocesan central offices, because he intends to travel throughout the archdiocese meeting priests and the faithful.

“I seek to reinvigorate a new hope. I have to be in the parishes. I have to meet with our priests,” he said. “I want to establish a bond and encounter the people of the archdiocese. I have to be in the field. The best time for any bishop is the time they spend with their people. I want to be in the midst of our people, listening to them, praying with them, dining with them.”

“I want to be in the pews with the people,” he added.

He said he knows the heritage of deep faith in the Archdiocese of Washington and is aware that the archdiocese is not only racially and ethnically very diverse, but also “home to the poor and the powerful, neither of which realizes they're both.”

“I seek to be a pastor for this entire family,” he said.

Since the Church of Washington includes the nation’s capital and its lawmakers, Archbishop Gregory said that his mission is the same as it always has been: “to speak and promote the Church’s moral and doctrinal teachings.”

“I am here as a pastor and a pastor must speak what is in the Gospel,” he said.

In addressing clergy, men and women in religious life and lay ministers, he offered “my support and affection and deep yearning to work with you.”

“You (clergy and religious) have prepared us to face the future with hope and confidence… I come to serve you with love, truth and tenderness in the name of the Lord Jesus,” he said.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, introducing Archbishop Gregory, called the appointment “very welcome news” and praised his successor as a man of “great pastoral abilities … (and) leadership qualities (who) generously shares his talents and his love for the Church.”

“It is with great confidence and enthusiasm that we can welcome our new archbishop,” Cardinal Wuerl said.

Speaking of his predecessor, Archbishop Gregory said, “I have known Donald Wuerl for more than 40 years. He is a gentleman who has worked hard for the Church. He has acknowledged he made mistakes and he has apologized for them.”

“I want to assure the people that I will be honest with them and govern this archdiocese with sensitivity,” Archbishop Gregory said. “I will be available and approachable. I have to tell you the truth and I will.”

Archbishop Wilton Gregory, the archbishop-designate of Washington, greets his predecessor, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, at an April 4 press conference at the Archdiocese of Washington's Pastoral Center in Hyattsville, Maryland.  (Archdiocese of Washington photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann)