Diocesan News

First African American Cardinal Designate Praised by Brooklyn Catholic Clergy

WINDSOR TERRACE — The archbishop who will become the first African American cardinal in the U.S. has achieved much for the Catholic Church, and with calm, steely resolve, said Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of the Diocese of Brooklyn.

Pope Francis announced Sunday, Oct. 25 that he would create 13 new cardinals on Nov. 28, including Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Washington, D.C.

On the following day, Bishop DiMarzio joined African American priests in his diocese to praise the naming of Cardinal-designate Gregory. At age 72 he will be among cardinals under the age of 80 who are eligible to vote in the conclave.

“It’s wonderful that he received the honor,” Bishop DiMarzio said. “He has so many years serving the Church so well.”

Speaking soon after the announcement with the Catholic Standard, Washington’s archdiocesan newspaper, Cardinal-designate Gregory said he was “deeply humbled.”

“I am reaping a harvest that millions of African American Catholics and people of color have planted,” he added. “I am deeply grateful for the faith that they have lived so generously, so zealously, and with such great devotion.”

Cardinal-designate Gregory became archbishop of Washington D.C. in 2019 after having been archbishop of Atlanta since 2005.

Bishop DiMarzio recounted how the future cardinal joined the church as a teen-age convert in Chicago. After ordination, he performed pastoral work in Illinois before becoming auxiliary bishop of Chicago.

Later, as bishop of Belleville, Ill., he also served as president of the U.S. Conference of Bishops (USCCB).

As president of the USCCB, from 2001 to 2004, Cardinal-designate Gregory became a leader in the Church’s response to the scandal involving decades of sexual abuse allegations against some members of the Catholic clergy.

Subsequently, the USCCB in 2002 drafted the “Dallas Charter” — the directive that called for better measures to protect children while also helping victims heal. 

Bishop DiMarzio said the future cardinal fully understood problems and solutions to the scandal, and he did a good job communicating what ought to be done.

“He got the responsibility, which he certainly lived up to, guiding the bishops,” Bishop DiMarzio said. “It was a difficult time. I was there.”

But, he added, “The cardinal-designate is kind of dispassionate.”

“He’s not the kind of person who gets excited,” Bishop DiMarzio said. “He is slow, steady, and effective.”

Father Alonzo Cox, pastor of St. Martin de Porres Parish, Bedford-Stuyvesant, said that since he was a seminarian, he closely followed Cardinal-designate Gregory’s “rise in the hierarchy.”

Included was his leadership on the Dallas Charter, Father Cox said Monday.

“I think,” he added, “that will be his primary legacy, of shepherding the Church throughout that time of sadness and pain, and really pledging this cannot happen anymore and this will not happen anymore.”

The pontiff made the announcement at the end of his Angelus address Oct. 25, telling the crowd in St. Peter’s Square the names of the nine cardinals under the age of 80, who will be eligible to vote in a conclave, and the names of four elderly churchmen whose red hats are a sign of esteem and honor.

Father Cox rejoiced upon reading that Cardinal-designate Gregory was on that list.

“It was such a celebratory day, yesterday,” Father Cox said. “After I finished the 7:30 (Mass) I came back to the rectory to get a cup of coffee and I opened the iPad and I saw that the Holy Father at the end of his Angelus had appointed 13 new cardinals and one of them was Archbishop Gregory, and I was just excited.”

Father Cox also praised Cardinal-designate Gregory for urging African American clergy to celebrate their culture and find ways to share it with “the Church at large.”

“He has done that so wonderfully and so beautifully,” Father Cox said. “I think as a cardinal, he’ll be able to do that to a greater degree in the life of the Church. I think we’ll be able to look to him as a strong voice in the Church, now more than ever, as we go through race relations.”

Father Dwayne Davis at St. Thomas Aquinas called the news “historic.”

“I think it’s a great day in the Church and a great day for black Catholics in America,” Father Davis said. “I think the whole Black Community rejoices for us, almost like when a black Catholic saint is named. It shows that, as black Catholics, we do matter and we are a part of the Church in a real sense.”

Father Davis said many black Catholics have left the Church because they did not “feel at home,” while also feeling disenfranchised by the larger society.

Therefore, Father Davis added, the naming of Cardinal-designate Gregory “definitely is a message of great hope and even a call for great rejoicing.”

He noted, however, that Cardinal-designate Gregory serves everyone.

“He is a great churchman and great leader,” Father Davis said. “He stands with his people no matter who they are, regardless of race or background. He is a man for all people.”

But recent events show Cardinal-designate Gregory has no qualms about criticizing people in power.

In June, he called out President Donald Trump for showboating at the national Catholic shrine to coincide with an executive order on religious freedom. Police used teargas to deter protestors.

In a statement issued by the Washington Archdiocese, he said, “I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people even those with whom we might disagree.

“Saint Pope John Paul II was an ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings. His legacy bears vivid witness to that truth. He certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace.”

Another U.S. citizen among the new cardinals is retired Italian Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, 80, a former nuncio and a member of the Scalabrinian missionaries.

Archbishop Tomasi, who holds dual citizenship, is a longtime friend and colleague of Bishop DiMarzio.

The Brooklyn bishop said he has known Archbishop Tomasi for about 50 years. They worked together with U.S. bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services. From 1983 to 1987 Archbishop Tomasi was secretary of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers.

“He is a wonderful man,” Bishop DiMarzio said. “We’ve stayed constantly in touch over the years. We speak frequently on migration issues. His knowledge is second to none.”

Pope Francis also chose as cardinal electors two officials of the Roman Curia and bishops from Italy, Rwanda, the Philippines, Chile and Brunei.

Once the consistory is held in late November, there will be 128 cardinals under the age of 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave — Pope Francis will have created just over 57 percent of them. Sixteen of the cardinals created by St. John Paul II will still be under 80 as will 39 of the cardinals created by Pope Benedict XVI; Pope Francis will have created 73 of the electors.

U.S. Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, retired archbishop of Washington, will celebrate his 80th birthday on Nov. 12, before the consistory. Italian Cardinal Angelo Becciu, whom the pope dismissed as prefect of the congregation for saints in late September, is 72 but renounced the rights of a cardinal, including the right to enter a conclave to elect a new pope.

Italians will continue to have an outsized portion of the electors, rising to 22 of the 128; the United States will stay at nine voters with Cardinal-designate Gregory taking Cardinal Wuerl’s place.

The Vatican press office said specifics will be announced later about how the consistory and related activities will unfold given COVID-19 restrictions on travel and gatherings. 

According to canon law, cardinals are created by the pope’s decree, which is “published in the presence of the College of Cardinals.” Church law does not specify how many members of the college must be present nor does it insist that the new cardinal be present, although traditionally the consistory includes a public profession of faith by the new cardinals.

Here is the full list of the new cardinals, in the order named by the Holy Father:

  • Maltese Bishop Mario Grech, 63, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops.
  • Italian Bishop Marcello Semeraro, 72, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes.
  • Archbishop Antoine Kambanda of Kigali, Rwanda, who will turn 62 Nov. 10.
  • Archbishop Gregory, 72.
  • Archbishop Jose F. Advincula of Capiz, Philippines, 68.
  • Archbishop Celestino Aos Braco of Santiago, Chile, 75.
  • Bishop Cornelius Sim, apostolic vicar of Brunei, 69.
  • Italian Archbishop Paolo Lojudice of Siena, 56.
  • Franciscan Father Mauro Gambetti, custos of the Sacred Convent of Assisi in Assisi, who was to celebrate his 55th birthday Oct. 27.
  • Retired Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel of San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico, 80.
  • Retired Italian Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, a former nuncio, 80.
  • Italian Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household, 86.
  • Italian Father Enrico Feroci, 80, former director of Rome’s Caritas.

This article includes reporting by Cindy Wooden for Catholic News Service.