Rev. Wilton Gregory, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Atlanta for 14 years, has been named the new head of the Washington, D.C., archdiocese in a move that takes effect May 21.

Gregory, who was named to the Washington position by Pope Francis, has served as head of the Atlanta archdiocese since 2005. An Atlanta archdiocese spokesperson did not immediately respond to questions about the appointment of a local successor.

Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory. (Special)

In a statement in “The Georgia Bulletin,” the archdiocese’s newspaper, Gregory praised Atlanta and asked for prayers.

“While I am humbled and honored by the confidence the Holy Father has placed in me, I regret that it brings to an end this truly blessed moment in my life as your archbishop,” Gregory said in part. “I have asked you for many things during my time in Atlanta, and you have always responded with a boundless generosity of heart and spirit. My final request is for your prayers as I begin anew in Washington, D.C., even as I assure you of my prayers for you in return.

“Know that I will carry you always in the closeness of my heart. May God bless you and all who are dear to you, and may God bless the Archdiocese of Atlanta!”

During his time in Atlanta, Gregory was known for statements and writings on such social issues as the death penalty and assisted suicide. Last year, he appeared at a Sandy Springs forum about the death penalty alongside “Dead Man Walking” author Sister Helen Prejean.

In Washington, Gregory replaces Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who resigned late last year amid controversy over his handling of clergy sexual abuse cases in another archdiocese. Gregory previously served as head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, including a period when it devised a policy for responding to clergy sexual abuse, and continues to serve on an internal committee for further policy changes. Late last year, the Atlanta archdiocese issued a list of area priests “credibly” accused of sexual abuse, along with an apology from Gregory. National Catholic media outlets have speculated that Gregory’s background on the sexual abuse issue is one reason for his Washington appointment.

Archbishop Gregory, center, and Sister Helen Prejean, far right, sit among the audience during a death penalty forum in Sandy Springs in 2018. (File)

However, Gregory’s own leadership has drawn some controversy. A pending lawsuit accuses him and the archdiocese of covering up other sexual abuse cases. The archdiocese has denied that claim. Darren Penn, one of the lawyers who filed the lawsuit on behalf of an anonymous client, is a parishioner of the archdiocese’s mother church, Buckhead’s Cathedral of Christ the King.

Another controversy from Gregory’s Atlanta tenure was his residence in a $2.2 million, custom-built mansion on Buckhead’s Habersham Road, which he vacated in 2014 after criticism. The mansion had been funded with money left to the archdiocese in the will of a nephew of “Gone with the Wind” author Margaret Mitchell.

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.