In a wide-ranging interview with the Religion News Service published on Friday, Cardinal Wilton Gregory committed himself to speaking up for African Americans in his pioneering position as the first Black cardinal from the US.
"I’m not the only voice... But I do have a particular entree now to present those issues to him," the cardinal said to RNS' Jack Jenkins concerning his relationship with Pope Francis.
"[He] has already demonstrated an openness to hear and to respond to the issues that affect the life of the church here in the United States and, in particular... African American presence, evangelization, social outreach and social justice issues."
Though it wasn't mentioned in the final recension of the interview, less than a week before the consistory―and indeed while Gregory was in Rome for a preliminary 10-day quarantine—Pope Francis met there with NBA players about their recent protests and social justice work.
It also cannot be forgotten that Pope Francis elevated Gregory to the cardinalate during Black Catholic History Month.
Gregory covered the twin pandemics of racism and COVID-19 at one point in the interview, soundbites from which were published in an RNS story on Thursday.
"Within the African American community, there is a history of hesitation because of historic issues... African American women being forcibly, without their knowledge, sterilized [and] the awful events that took place with the Tuskegee [Experiment]."
Nevertheless, he plans to support the impending COVID immunization programs.
"I certainly hope to encourage my people to take advantage of the vaccines."
Another reiteration of previous media reports is his hope for dialogue with President-elect Joe Biden—including allowing him to receive Communion as a dissenting Catholic.
Gregory described the opposite approach as akin to negotiating with "a gun on the table".
"I want to begin a relationship with him that allows us to have a serious conversation... being able to capitalize on issues that we can advance together."
He cited Biden's stance on "racial justice" as one such issue, an aspect of his politics that aligns with Catholic teaching.
Given African Americans' heavily Democrat voting patterns, it's no stretch to see Gregory's diplomatic strategy with Biden as itself a show of support to Black Catholics, which the new cardinal hopes to continue.
"...as one who has a direct relationship with the Holy Father as one of his cardinals... I can, to the best of my ability, articulate the aspirations, the hopes, the dreams of the African American community in a unique way."
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder of Black Catholic Messenger, a priesthood applicant with the Josephites, and a ThM student w/ the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).