Cardinal Joseph Bernardin Award
June 24th, 2006
Most Rev. Wilton D. Gregory, S.L.D.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory is a native of the Archdiocese of Chicago who comes to us today as the Archbishop of Atlanta. His journey from one archdiocese to the other has not followed the usual path of most bishops. Born December 7, 1947, in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Wilton and Ethel Duncan Gregory, he attended St. Carthage Grammar School, where he entered the Catholic Church. He was ordained a priest of the archdiocese in 1973 and was sent for graduate studies at the Pontifical Liturgical Institute Sant’ Anselmo in Rome where he earned a doctorate in Liturgy in 1980.
Shortly after his 36th birthday, on December 13, 1983, Bishop Gregory was ordained as an auxiliary bishop of Chicago. Ten years later, on February 10, 1994, he was installed as the seventh bishop of Belleville. In Belleville, Bishop Gregory took aggressive action to deal with the problem of sexual abuse of minors by clergy which he found there. As difficult as this was, it turned out to be a valuable experience when he had to confront the same problem on the national level.
Always a very active member of the national Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Gregory served as chair of the Bishops’ Committee on Liturgy (1991-93) and the Committee on the Third Millennium/ Jubilee Year 2000 (1998-2001). In 1998, he was elected the vice president of the Conference, and on November 13, 2001, he became the President of the USCCB, the first African American to hold that post. Shortly after Bishop Gregory became president, articles in the Boston Globe stirred up what became a nationwide outcry over the issue of sexual abuse by some Catholic clergy, and Bishop Gregory’s presidency took a turn he could not have expected. Throughout the crisis, he led the USCCB with great courage and manifest faith. His keynote address at the Bishops’ meeting in Dallas in June 2002, was a moving call to an examination of conscience, confession, and repentance for any failings on the part of bishops in protecting children or in reaching out to victims. He guided the USCCB to the adoption of the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.” In accord with the Charter, he appointed the first National Review Board and oversaw the opening of the Conference’s Office for Child and Youth Protection. On his watch, the National Review Board issued its report and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice its study of the nature and scope of the abuse problem between 1950 and 2002.
While Archbishop Gregory may well have foreseen other tasks he could have undertaken during his presidency — such as promoting greater awareness on the part of American Catholics of the Church in Africa, he was the right man for the right time. His concern for victims of abuse, his love for the priesthood, his willingness to take a stand, his insight and articulateness, and his tireless availability to the media which were insatiable in covering the crisis made him an outstanding leader for the bishops and for the Church during some very difficult years.
Archbishop Gregory was appointed the seventh Bishop and sixth Archbishop of Atlanta in December 2004 and was installed on January 17, 2005. It seems particularly appropriate that he now heads the archdiocese where Cardinal Bernardin began his episcopal ministry as auxiliary bishop. In Atlanta Archbishop Gregory continues to manifest a special joy in serving the Church, a joy which continued to be with him even in the most difficult days of the sexual abuse crisis and which has made him a blessing to us all. The Catholic Common Ground Initiative proudly bestows its Cardinal Joseph Bernardin 2006 Award on Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory.