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U.S. Catholics Will Get Their 1st Black Cardinal In November


Pope Francis is breaking new ground for the Roman Catholic Church. In the past week, he has voiced support for civil unions for LGBTQ people, and then on Sunday, he named the first African American cardinal. Here's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli from Rome.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Speaking from his window overlooking St. Peter's Square, Francis announced Wilton Gregory among the 13 new cardinals he has chosen.


POPE FRANCIS: (Speaking Italian).

POGGIOLI: The 72-year-old archbishop of Washington has been widely praised for his handling of the sex abuse crisis that has rocked the Catholic Church. As head of the U.S. Bishops Conference in the early 2000s, he helped develop the church's zero tolerance policy that has set an example for the Catholic Church in the rest of the world. The archbishop has also been praised for his more inclusive treatment of LGBTQ Catholics. An outspoken civil rights activist, the African American prelate's elevation comes as U.S. society is reckoning with systemic racism.

BRYAN MASSINGALE: He's reminded the church that Black lives are sacred.

POGGIOLI: Father Bryan Massingale, who is Black, is a professor of theology at Fordham University.

MASSINGALE: It's a powerful affirmation of the presence of African American Catholics - of our faithfulness in the church and, frankly, that we are a group who have kept faith with a church that has not often been faithful to us.

POGGIOLI: Archbishop Gregory made headlines this summer when he blasted President Trump's photo opportunity hoisting a Bible at a Washington Episcopal church after police and soldiers used tear gas and rubber bullets to clear protesters. And he criticized the president's visit the following day to the St. John Paul II National Shrine, saying, quote, "it's baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated." Bishop Shelton Fabre, one of a handful of African American Catholic bishops, has worked closely with Gregory.

SHELTON FABRE: As a Black bishop and in the name of Black Catholics across the country, to know that someone who looks like us is going to have direct access to the mind and heart of the pope, I think that's a tremendous, tremendous gift.

POGGIOLI: The new cardinals will be elevated in a formal ceremony at the Vatican on November 28. There will then be 128 cardinals under the age of 80 eligible to elect the next pope. Francis has now appointed almost 60% of them, raising the chances that the next pope will be closely in line with his own policies.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.