Pope Francis named Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory as the new archbishop for Washington, D.C., tapping a moderate and the first African-American to lead the archdiocese.

Gregory, 71, will replace Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who was forced to resign last year after he was implicated in covering up abuse at a string of Pennsylvania churches, as revealed by a grand jury.


The appointment was first reported by the Catholic News Agency.

Gregory lead the U.S. bishops conference in 2002 when it enacted a “zero-tolerance” policy regarding abuse. He has headed the Atlanta archdiocese since 2005 and is viewed as an ally of Francis’s vision for the church.

Francis has sought since 2014 to remake the Catholic Church in a more moderate vision after the previous two papacies adopted more conservative tones. He named Cardinal Blase Cupich, a moderate, as Chicago archbishop in 2014 and tapped Joseph Tobin as a cardinal in 2016, sending him to Newark, N.J.

Though a small archdiocese, the church’s base in Washington has always been held in higher standing due to its location.

Its archbishops have often later been tapped as cardinals, according to The Associated Press, which could put Gregory in line to be the first African-American to attain that title.

However, the Washington archdiocese has also been an epicenter of the abuse crisis, with its past two leaders being embroiled in the scandal.

Theodore McCarrick, Wuerl’s predecessor, was defrocked after an internal investigation found him guilty of sexually abusing minors and adults during his tenure, marking the first time a cardinal was cast out of the church for abuse.

Gregory “has impeccable credentials for dealing with the sex abuse crisis, which is essential for healing the church,” the Rev. Thomas Reese, an expert on the American church, said in a column Thursday at Religion News Service

Gregory scorched McCarrick after he was cast out, saying his respect for him had been “clearly misplaced.”

Gregory was briefly mired in scandal in 2014 when the Atlanta archdiocese used $2.2 million that had been donated to buy and renovate a new home for him. The archdiocese later sold the mansion and Gregory apologized after critics said the purchase was excessive.