Importance of an African American Cardinal
(article by Cathy Green-Miner on what the appointment of Cardinal Wilton Gregory means for her and the Church appears in the November 2020 issue of IN A WORD)
I am extremely pleased to hear that our brother, Archbishop Wilton Daniel Gregory, has been chosen by Pope Francis as the first African American Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. Congratulations to Cardinal-Designate Gregory! You have certainly earned it through your love and your amazing dedication to God’s work and His will.
I first met then Auxiliary Bishop Gregory during the 1987 National Black Catholic Congress. I was a starry-eyed Catholic girl who had the privilege of interviewing and recording African American bishops and African American religious sisters and leaders like Sister Thea Bowman, Sister Francesca Thompson and Theresa Favors. I was educated by the Sisters of the Holy Family whose foundress is Venerable Henriette Delille, so I knew what greatness in the Church looked like at an early age. Meeting the Black bishops and African American warrior women (some who happened to be religious sisters) was like winning the Catholic lottery. I felt both excited and humbled to be surrounded by Catholic royalty.
I worked for Media Production Center, the media arm for the Divine Word Missionaries Southern Province. It was Father James Pawlicki, SVD vision to train his students at St. Mary’s Academy in New Orleans to create Afro-centric video shorts, documentaries and print, and to edit and distribute them. The video crew assisted Fr. Pawlicki in amassing one of the largest video libraries of African American Catholic events, interviews and occasions. We were the first African American Catholic female video crew to capture such historical data.
I remember meeting Bishop Gregory and thinking there was something different about him. In all the excitement of Congress VI, which last met in 1894, we interviewed as many people we could to capture the significance of the meeting for Black Catholics around the United States and the message it would send the US Conference of Bishops and the Vatican.
All of the African American bishops and sisters gave us their time. As an empath, I sensed Bishop Gregory’s spirit. His spirit was a calming, humble spirit. I also sensed and witnessed how patient he was with our crew. Bishop Gregory had not a haughty word nor a condescending thought. He showed us love and kindness.
It brought me to what Maya Angelou once said: “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Our new Cardinal-Designate has a way of giving you hope as you turn and walk away. Cardinal-Designate Gregory is human first, humble always. Bishop Wilton Gregory was a gem then and he’s a gem now. He’s like a regular Jesus guy who now has the cool job of being a cardinal. He always encouraged us girls and he made us feel like we were doing something very important for the Black Catholic community and the Church. I am grateful for his words and for his leadership.
Just as Pope Francis is the first Jesuit pope, the first from the Americas, the first from the Southern Hemisphere and the first pope from outside Europe since the Syrian Gregory III who reigned in the 8th century, so too is our Gregory a first. Cardinal-Designate Gregory Daniel Wilton is the first African American to be named a cardinal! It’s been a long, long time.
Here’s the rub: Why does it always take so long for the Catholic Church to recognize greatness in the African American Catholic community? Some of you may not be ready to hear this but the Church’s response is problematic on so many levels. While the Church may acknowledge that racism exists within its house, while the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USSB) writes eloquent encyclicals of the evils of racism within the Church, the same movers and shakers don’t, well, move or shake. They write. They write and file it away until the next George Floyd gets murdered. Then they write again. No preaching against racism and injustice. No marching like during the Civil Rights era.
Here in New Orleans, Archbishop Gregory Aymond even has a prayer against violence and racism. We pray it every Sunday. However, I’ve not seen him march for racial equality. I’ve not heard a white priest speak out against racism from the pulpit from parishes across the greater New Orleans area. In all my years as a practicing Catholic, I’ve only heard two white deacons speak out against racism from the pulpit – never a white priest to his white congregation. Archbishop Aymond even has a committee on racism but lacks the courage to homilized it until parishioners have a conversion.
To change hearts, you must confront the beast – the beast of racism and white privilege. Until then, brilliant Jesus men like Cardinal elect Wilton Gregory will have to stand in the back of a long line of white bishops. Brilliant women like Venerable Henriette Delille and Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman will have to sit in the back of the canonization bus with bags of money in order to become the rightful saints they are, unlike Mother Theresa who was given a seat up front.
In 2020, archbishops around the country refuse to flip tables like Angry Jesus and shake their parishioners out of their white supremacy stupor. Archbishops and priests themselves aren’t ready to admit that the way they were conditioned by their parents, priests, teachers, neighbors and peers had them believing the lie of being superior to Black and Brown people. Most white Catholics are not ready to admit that they benefit from racist institutions in this country, including the Catholic Church’s racist institutions that suppress Black men and women’s advancement in the hierarchy of the Church. It was not that long ago that Blacks could sit near the altar or receive the Eucharist first.
I know, these bishops and priests don’t want their parishioners to feel uncomfortable by talking about racism and white privilege nor do they want their parishioners to withhold their tithes.
Yet, there is it. Racism is an economic machine. Talk about racism, you lose parishioners, hence, you lose money. So now we know why Angry Jesus flipped that table. I like priests who flip tables.
Cardinal-Designate Wilton Gregory has spent many years living the Beatitudes. His humility helped him admit when he was wrong and find solutions in a problem-focused world. He has fought to protect children in our church and fought for justice for adults of who were abused by predator priests. Cardinal-Designate Gregory has always been a beacon of light in the African American Catholic community and to the Church.
I am proud to say that like Archbishop Gregory, I was part of a movement that celebrated the genius of African American Catholics throughout the United States. I am happy to see one of our brothers be propelled into a decision-making roll that can change the world. I am confident that our Archbishop Wilton Gregory will remain grounded in Christ and that his prayers for us will never cease. And like Tim Tuten, who studied Confirmation under the tutelage of then Fr. Wilton Gregory, said, “When I think of what kind of Catholic I am, I think of Father Gregory because he’s the kind of Catholic I want to be.”
To Cardinal-Elect Wilton Daniel Gregory: May God forever order your steps. May Jesus always be your shepherd as you navigate the complexity that is the Catholic Church. May the Holy Spirit inspire you and protect your spirit.
Cathy Green-Miner is a licensed professional counselor and owner of Talk Therapy LLC, a private practice dedicated to changing the stigma of mental health in the African American community. She is the recipient of the Humane and Caring Award and the Best of ShowAward by the Louisiana Counseling Association. Mrs. Green-Miner is also the recipient of the University of New Orleans Best Internship Award for training practicum and internship students at St. Mary’s Academy in New Orleans. Cathy was videographer for Media Production Center and served on the editorial staff of In a Word for over twenty years.
Saint Augustine Centennial