IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Pope Francis appoints Archbishop Wilton Gregory as first Black American cardinal

Gregory served three times as head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Wilton Gregory
The archbishop of Washington, Wilton Gregory, leaves St. Augustine Church in Washington, D.C., in June 2019. Andrew Harnik / AP file

Washington, D.C., Archbishop Wilton Gregory was among 13 new cardinals named by Pope Francis on Sunday and will become the first Black U.S. prelate to earn the coveted red hat.

Francis picked Gregory to lead the prestigious diocese in the U.S. capital last year. He served three times as the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Gregory was part of a select group of Catholic leaders who criticized President Donald Trump for staging a picture in front of St. John's Episcopal Church near the White House this year during protests about the death of George Floyd.

Gregory said a previous pope, John Paul II, would "not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace."

Pope Francis made the surprise announcement from his studio window to the faithful standing below in St. Peter's Square in Vatican City. He said the men would be elevated to the rank of cardinal on Nov. 28.

Download the NBC News app for breaking news and politics

The Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, a Franciscan friar who is the official preacher to the papal household, was among the other new cardinals, along with the Rev. Antoine Kambanda, the archbishop of the Rwandan Archdiocese of Kigali, and Jose Fuerte Advincula, archbishop of the Philippine Archdiocese of Capiz.

The Rev. Celestino Aós Braco, the archbishop of Santiago, Chile, will also be elevated, along with the Rev. Mauro Gambetti, the head of the Sacred Convent of St. Francis in Assisi.

When he was elected in 2013, the pope chose St. Francis of Assisi as his namesake saint, and he journeyed to the hill town in Umbria this month to sign an encyclical, an important church teaching document, about brotherhood.

New cardinals under age 80 will join fellow cardinals eligible to elect the next pope in a secret conclave. Roman Catholic Church rules usually limit the number of cardinal electors to 120, but popes have bent that limit by naming more.

No details were immediately given by the Vatican about the concistory or the formal ceremony to make the churchmen cardinals. But it could be some time in view of travel restrictions involving many countries during the coronavirus pandemic.

CORRECTION (Oct. 25, 2020, 10:30 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the name of the bishops conference Wilton Gregory previously led. It is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, not the U.S. Conference of Bishops. The article also misidentified the pope who preceded Pope Francis. He is Benedict XVI, not John Paul I. In addition, in his statement, Gregory was referring to Pope John Paul II, not John Paul I.