Conservative Catholics Are Worried About The Vatican’s Likely Pick For DC Archbishop. Here’s Why

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Joshua Gill Religion Reporter
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  • Conservative Catholics worry that Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory, the Vatican’s reported pick for Archbishop of D.C., will not usher in an era of traditional Catholic, gospel-centered leadership for the archdiocese, given his track record concerning LGBT and abortion issues.
  • Gregory has demonstrated overt support for Catholic organizations and clerics who promote LGBT inclusion, like Father James Martin, the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests, and Faithful and Fortunate Families. 
  • Critics also take issue with Gregory’s past ties to Cardinals Donald Wuerl and Blase Cupich, and disgraced former cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

The Vatican is expected to announce Archbishop Wilton Gregory as the new Archbishop of D.C., worrying conservative Catholics given his affirmations of the LGBT community.

Officials from the Holy See reportedly indicated that Pope Francis will soon name Gregory, currently Archbishop of Atlanta, as the successor to Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who resigned as Archbishop of D.C. in October of 2018 amid public outcry over his failure to confront former cardinal Theodore McCarrick concerning sex abuse. (RELATED: Pope Decries US Border Wall, Says It Will Make America A ‘Prisoner’)

Some Catholics see Gregory as a strategic choice to see the D.C. diocese through the current sex abuse crisis, given his experience with the Boston Spotlight scandal as a president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He would also be the first ever black Archbishop of D.C. Conservative Catholics like members of Catholic Laity for Orthodox Bishops And Reform have expressed concern, however, over what they see as Gregory’s ambiguous stance on abortion, his support of LGBT-affirming groups that reject Catholic social teaching, and his ties to Wuerl and McCarrick.

“Catholic Laity for Orthodox Bishops and Reform (Catholic Laity) has grave reservations about the appointment of Archbishop Wilton Gregory as Archbishop of Washington,” the lay-group wrote.

“We urge the Holy See to seek out a worthy candidate who is without ties to Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, Mr. Theodore McCarrick, or Cardinal Donald Wuerl.  Archbishop Gregory was a protégé of Cardinal Bernardin in Chicago, where he first became an auxiliary bishop.  Cardinal Bernardin left a legacy of dilution of Catholic teaching and subversion of the fight to protect unborn babies and their mothers,” the group added.

Gregory served as the keynote speaker for a 2017 meeting of the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests, which promotes the ordination of women as deaconesses, LGBT inclusion in the church and asserts that sexual orientation “is an identity, not a tendency.” Conservative Catholics oppose all of these positions.

Gregory has expressed support for Father James Martin, who denounced traditional Catholic views on homosexuality as homophobic and has repeatedly called for the acceptance of homosexual and transgender people within the church. He also celebrated Mass in 2015 at a retreat for Fortunate and Faithful Families, which is an organization dedicated to supporting Catholic families whose children identify as gay, lesbian or transgender.

Catholic faithful in Atlanta also demanded that he remove Msgr. Henry Gracz as spiritual director to abuse victims and pastor of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception across from the Georgia State Capitol, given concerns over what they see as his promotion of LGBT lifestyles and culture.

Conservative Catholics also took issue with Gregory’s 2004 response to a letter from then cardinal and prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Joseph Ratzinger, which directed bishops to deny Holy Communion to Catholic politicians who endorsed abortion. Gregory argued instead that canonical sanctions should not be used so readily and that it was the prerogative of individual bishops to decide on a case by case basis how to address such politicians.

“In the nature of the church, the imposition of sanctions is always the final response, not the first response, nor the second nor maybe even the 10th,” Gregory wrote, according to The Georgia Bulletin.

“Each diocesan bishop has the right and duty to address such issues of serious pastoral concern as he judges best in his local church, in accord with pastoral and canonical norms,” he added.

While critics have noted Gregory’s past ties with McCarrick, Gregory said in August of 2018 that he was “enraged” by McCarrick’s reported abuse of young men, that his respect and esteem for him were “clearly misplaced,” and that he was “perplexed and sickened” that Vatican officials may have actively ignored warning signs concerning McCarrick.

Nevertheless, conservative Catholics are reportedly wary of Gregory’s “close ties” with Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago and Cardinal Donald Wuerl, as both are considered theologically liberal allies of Pope Francis and are also the only Americans on the Congregation for Bishops, which recommends the appointment of bishops to Francis, according to Catholic Herald. Wuerl and Cupich may therefore have had a direct influence on Gregory’s nomination as Archbishop of D.C.

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