I will always tell you the truth, vows Washington’s new archbishop

In his first public appearance as the Archbishop of Washington, 71-year old Wilton Gregory repeatedly promised always to tell the truth.

“I believe that the only way I can serve the local archdiocese is by telling you the truth,” he said several times in a news conference.

“This is obviously a moment fraught with challenges throughout our entire Catholic Church, but nowhere more so than in this local faith community,” he said.

Gregory’s predecessor, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, resigned in October after a Pennsylvania grand jury report raised questions about his handling of abusive priests in the 1990s while bishop of Pittsburgh.

Wuerl’s predecessor in Washington, Theodore McCarrick, was removed from the priesthood after revelations he sexually abused a youngster and sexually harassed seminarians.

“I would be naive not to acknowledge the unique task that awaits us,” Gregory said.

He said he is confident in the grace of God and the goodness of the people of the church as aids in facing his new responsibilities.

“I want to come to know you, to hear your stories, to listen to the emotions and experiences and expectations that have shaped your precious Catholic faith, for better or for worse. I want to offer you hope.”

The ethnically and socially diverse Washington diocese “is home to the poor and the powerful, neither of which realizes they are both,” he said.

Besides offering the faithful hope, Gregory also promised to rebuild their trust.

“I cannot undo the past, but I sincerely believe that together, we will not merely address the moments where we have fallen short or failed outright, but we will model for all the life and teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we will reclaim the future.”

He said the archdiocese will move forward, “neither forgetting the past nor being constrained by it.”

Speaking of the clerical-hierarchical culture behind the church’s current sex abuse crisis, Gregory recalled the words of an older priest who outlined the temptations he would encounter while he was studying in Rome.

The priest told him: ‘You will face the temptation for self-aggrandizement, the temptation for pleasure, and the temptation to power. And the most damaging and seductive temptation is that for power,’ he said.

“And I think so much of what we’re facing now was a misuse of power, an abuse of power, clerical power, power that was intended in too many cases to dominate and destroy lives.”

When media asked Gregory whether he would address the misdeeds of his predecessors, he replied:

“It’s difficult to come into a situation where there is unrest.

“I’ve known Donald Wuerl for over 40 years. I know he is a gentleman. He works very hard for the church. He’s acknowledged that he’s made mistakes. That’s a sign of the integrity of the man.

“If I can shed light on what I think we need to do in response to some of the mistakes he’s acknowledged and asked forgiveness for, I’ll do that. Part of clericalism is circling the wagons so that the episcopacy won’t call one another to task. I think this moment has shown the folly of that approach to episcopal governance and episcopal collegiality.”

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