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October 15, 2002  536 Words

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 mutually.”

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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