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Pope Francis endorsed same-sex civil unions for the first time as pope while being interviewed for the feature-length documentary ‘Francesco.’

USA TODAY

The Washington, D.C., archbishop who slammed President Donald Trump’s visit to a Roman Catholic shrine in the city will become the first African American cardinal, the Vatican announced Sunday.

Archbishop Wilton Daniel Gregory, 72, is one of 13 men who will assume the rank of cardinal in ceremonies Nov. 28. Cardinals rank only behind the pope in church hierarchy, and together they vote to elect popes. Cardinals wear red to signify their willingness to shed blood in service of the church.

“With a very grateful and humble heart, I thank Pope Francis for this appointment which will allow me to work more closely with him in caring for Christ’s Church,” Gregory said in a statement.

Gregory made national news in June for comments after Trump and first lady Melania Trump’s held a brief photo opportunity at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine – a day after Trump’s controversial visit to St. John’s Episcopal Church.

The church had been slightly damaged after it was set ablaze during protests of death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in the custody of Minneapolis police. Authorities then used smoke canisters and pepper spray to clear a path for the president to walk to St. John’s, the historic building known as the church of presidents. 

“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,” Gregory said in a statement then.

Pope Francis endorses same-sex civil unions: They ‘have the right to be in a family’

Jim Bretzke, a priest, author and professor of theology at John Carroll University in Ohio, says Gregory’s promotion is noteworthy given his clash with Trump. Normally, one important key to success in the church is to stay out of the news, Bretzke says.

“While ‘no news is good news’ may have been the usual advice given to hierarchs on the rise, clearly for Francis it depends on what sort of news is generated,” Bretzky said. “The pope certainly would have known of Gregory’s remarks, and in that context still decided to make him a cardinal.”

Terence McKiernan is president of Bishopaccountability.org, a group seeking accountability of U.S. bishops under civil, criminal and church law for clergy sexual abuse. McKiernan credits Gregory with shepherding through the U.S. Conference of Bishops in 2002 the only church law that stipulates zero-tolerance on sexual abuse.

“This is a milestone. Vatican recognition at last of Black Catholics and their important history in the United States,” McKiernan said in an email to USA TODAY. “This is also recognition of soon-to-be-Cardinal Gregory’s significant role in the clergy abuse crisis.” 

Gregory, a Chicago native, was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1973. He served as a parish priest in Chicago and was ordained an auxiliary bishop of Chicago in 1983. In 1994, Gregory was installed as the bishop of Belleville, Illinois, where he served for 11 years, and then as archbishop of Atlanta in 2005, before his appointment as archbishop of Washington in April 2019.

He holds a doctorate in liturgy from the Pontifical Athenaeum of Saint Anselm in Rome.

The other new cardinals include the secretary ceneral of the Synod of Bishops, Maltese Mario Grech, and Italian Marcello Semeraro, former Bishop of Albano and the new prefect for the Congregation of the Causes of Saints.

Also on the list: archbishop of Kilgali, Rwanda, Antoine Kambanda; the archbishop of Capiz, in the Philippines, Jose Fuerte Advincula; the archbishop of Santiago, Chile, Celestino Aós Braco; the apostolic vicar of Brunei, Cornelius Sim; the archbishop of Siena, Italia, Augusto Paolo Lojudice.

The pope has also appointed the current guardian of the Franciscan Sacro Convento in Assisi, Mauro Gambett; Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel, archbishop emeritus of San Cristóbal de Las Casas in Mexico; former Apostolic Nuncio Silvano Tomasi, former permanent observer at the United Nations in Geneva; Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the Papal Household; and the pastor of the Shrine of Divine Love, Enrico Feroci.

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