As had been widely speculated, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta was appointed Thursday to succeed Cardinal Donald Wuerl as the archbishop of Washington.
The archdiocese has fallen under heavy scrutiny after its two most recent bishops have become emblematic of the clerical sex abuse crisis — Theodore McCarrick for his alleged abuse of priests, seminarians, and altar boys, and his successor, Donald Wuerl, for his failure to properly handle abuse cases during his tenure as the bishop of Pittsburgh. Wuerl had also denied having knowledge of of McCarrick’s illicit activities and was embarrassed when it was later proven that he’d known of allegations about McCarrick since at least 2004.
Archbishop Gregory — no doubt soon to be a cardinal — was the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2001 to 2004. In that role, he was responsible for the implementation of the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, an effort the bishops love to tout but which has faced heavy criticism for its failure to address one of the primary underlying problems with clerical abuse: accountability for the bishops themselves. Catholic commentator Phil Lawler, who covered the creation of the Dallas Charter as a journalist in 2002, wrote in a 2016 column, “In Dallas the bishops talked about how to discipline wayward priests; they said very little about how to restore trust in their own leadership.”
“Within weeks after that June 2002 meeting in Dallas,” Lawler wrote, “Bishop [now Archbishop] Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, then the president of the US bishops’ conference, placidly announced that the scandal was past history, and unquestioning Catholic journalists have been echoing that claim for years.”
We all know how that turned out.
The late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who consecrated Gregory to the episcopate in 1983 and has been described as his “mentor,” is one of the most troubling figures in the history of the American epicopacy. Dark and sordid allegations continue to surround him over two decades after his death from pancreatic cancer in 1996. Bernardin has been accused of covering up for a number of clerical sex abusers and also of recruiting homosexuals from Latin America to seminaries in Chicago, where he served as archbishop from 1982 to 1996. Bernardin is also alleged to have had a “sexual penchant for young men,” according to Randy Engel in her book The Rite of Sodomy, as quoted here by Catholic journalist Matt C. Abbott. In one of the most disturbing allegations, he was identified by some as being the perpetrator of a ritual Satanic rape of an 11-year-old girl in 1957, as fictionalized in the novel Windswept House by the late Malachi Martin. The young girl, known only as “Agnes,” was reported to have come forward and passed a polygraph examination about this event in 1992.
In much of the reportage of his appointment to D.C., Gregory is being described as Bernardin’s “protégé.” We’re left on our own to figure out what that might mean.
Catholic journalist and author George Neumayr has an idea. He reported last November — when rumors of Gregory being in the running for D.C. first surfaced — that the former Atlanta archbishop “has maintained Bernardin’s program of gay promotion and propaganda in the Church.”
Neumayr observes that Gregory has “defended the writings and speeches” of the notoriously pro-LGBT Jesuit, Fr. James Martin — whom Gregory also invited to speak in his diocese last October — and appointed a priest caught in a homosexual love triangle to be the pastor of a parish in Conyers. (The parish, ironically, is named St. Pius X.)
And do you remember the letter then-cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the CDF, sent to the American bishops in 2004, saying Catholic politicians who “reject the doctrine of the Church” should not receive the Eucharist? The one Theodore McCarrick “bowdlerized,” as Phil Lawler put it, when it was shared with the other U.S. bishops, “to suggest that the Vatican had not recommended withholding Communion from abortion advocates”?
Well, the letter was addressed to not only McCarrick.
It was also sent to Wilton Gregory.
Everywhere you look, Gregory is there, sidled up close to the wrong kind of ecclesiastical figures, the wrong sorts of issues, his name in close proximity with those promoting or perpetrating evil in the Church, or those who refuse to understand the problems that ail us.
In other words, as long as you don’t want anything of substance to change, he appears to be a perfect fit to succeed the last two men who headed up the D.C. archdiocese.
If they want us to believe they don’t take any of this seriously, they’ve succeeded.
* Correction: we originally wrote that it was Matt C. Abbot who alleged that Cardinal Bernardin had a “sexual penchant for young men,” but this phrase came from Randy Engel’s book The Rite of Sodomy, as cited by Abbott. We have corrected the error in the text.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.