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US Bishops likely to elect black leader

Bishop Wilton Gregory is expected to become the first black president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in a four-day meeting that began yesterday.

The Illinois prelate now serves as the group's vice president. Conference vice presidents traditionally are elected to the organisation's top post. The vote is scheduled for today.

The Catholic Church in the US is 78% white, according to the Centre for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, and black Catholics have long sought recognition from church leaders.

Estimates of the number of black Catholics range from 2 million to 3.5 million, out of 63.7 million nationwide. They welcome the upcoming election of Gregory as a sign their voices will be heard.

Gregory, a 53-year-old Chicago native, was ordained a priest in 1973 and later earned a doctorate in sacred liturgy from the Pontifical Liturgical Institute in Rome. He became a bishop in 1983, serving for 10 years as auxiliary bishop under the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in Chicago.

Gregory was installed as the bishop of Belleville, Illinois seven years ago, becoming the spiritual leader for 105,000 Catholics in a diocese that covers roughly the southern third of Illinois.

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Diocese of Belleville
Centre for Applied Research in the Apostolate