The US Conference of Catholic Bishops is about to elect its first black president: Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, of the Belleville diocese in southern Illinois. Bishop Gregory is expected to take up the post when the bishops meet here next month in Washington DC. Since 1966, every conference vice president but one has been elected president. Strongly opposed to the death penalty, the bishop is known as a powerful speaker and has campaigned on a number of human rights issues, including racism and poverty. "For African-American Catholics it will be almost equivalent to having an African-American president of the United States, simply because it will mean recognition of the authenticity of their presence," said Diana Hayes, a black Catholic and theologian at Georgetown University. "He's already proven himself to be a real leader in the Catholic church," said Fr Tom Reese, editor of the Catholic magazine America. "He's worked his way up through the bishops' conference by serving as chair of important committees, like the committee on liturgy."
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