Bishop Wilton Gregory Weathers Numerous Storms as USCCB President
CINCINNATI—When Bishop Wilton Gregory was elected by the United States bishops
last November as president of their conference, little did he know that the
first year of his administration would be dominated by the clergy sex-abuse
crisis. But he has responded to it with faith and openness. At the Bishops’
Conference in Dallas last June, the bishops, under his leadership, drafted the
Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
Bishop Gregory is featured in the November cover story of St.
Anthony Messenger. Editor Pat McCloskey, O.F.M., interviewed
Bishop Gregory at his office in Belleville, Illinois, several
weeks after the groundbreaking Dallas meeting. Gregory candidly
discussed his Chicago background, his presidency and his faith
that the Church will weather the continuing scandals. After October
25, the article will be found at: AmericanCatholic.org.
Although he has achieved success and some prominence
as a bishop in the Church, Gregory was not born a Catholic. In the sixth grade,
he transferred to St. Carthage Grammar School on Chicago’s South Side. Six weeks
after meeting John Hayes and Gerard Weber, the priests in that parish, Bishop
Gregory wanted to become a priest himself. “I wish every kid knew a priest like
John Hayes or Gerry Weber,” he says. Bishop Gregory achieved his dream when
he was ordained in 1973.
He served three years as associate pastor at Our Lady
of Perpetual Help in Glenview, Illinois, before starting graduate studies in
liturgy. In 1980, he was assigned to his alma mater, the Archdiocese of Chicago’s
Mundelein Seminary, after completing his doctorate. But his career as a professor
would be short-lived. In 1983, he was appointed an auxiliary bishop for Chicago.
In 1990, he was elected to chair the U.S. bishops’
Committee on the Liturgy. He was installed as bishop of Belleville in 1994 and
was elected vice president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Last
November, Bishop Gregory was elected president. All of these experiences would
serve him well when tackling the biggest crisis to hit the Catholic Church.
Amid the scandal, Bishop Gregory has remained
a source of calm, challenging the bishops to confront this problem squarely
and U.S. Catholics to support their endeavors. He also realizes that there is
still a great deal of understanding and healing to be done. “I think our people
are still scandalized…and it’s going to take some time for healing and for restoration
of trust and confidence,” he says.
Bishop Gregory is insistent that there be a
greater understanding among all members of the Church. “We can achieve an environment
where bishops, priests and laity work together to establish directions for dioceses,
to confront challenges that each local Church faces, to support one another
Bishop Gregory is still optimistic about the
state of the Catholic Church, despite the scandals. At this year’s World Youth
Day in Toronto, Bishop Gregory called the Church, “a worldwide community of
believers with saints and sinners.” Those causing the scandal are “not all of
the Church and not most of the Church.”
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