ATLANTA (FOX 5 Atlanta) - The leader of Atlanta's 1.2 million Catholics is heading to the nation's capital. Pope Francis chose Archbishop Wilton Gregory for the high profile position at a time of crisis in the church there.
Archbishop Gregory sat down with FOX 5 Senior Anchor Russ Spencer Tuesday afternoon to discuss the challenges ahead.
The archbishop was very open about how surprised he was to get the call to Washington. The Chicago native said he fully expected to retire someday as the Archbishop of Atlanta, a place he said he's come to consider home.
Gregory will become the first black archbishop of a major U.S. Catholic diocese, and most likely, the first black U.S. Cardinal ever.
Archbishop Gregory rose to national prominence 17 years ago as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, when it implemented a zero tolerance policy for priests accused of sex abuse.
He pushed to hold bishops accountable for not responding to crimes by other priests or for committing crimes themselves -- the very scandals that ensnared Gregory's predecessors in Washington.
The faith in Washington has been recently tested by a scandal surrounding both of his predecessors there, Cardinal Wuerl for allegedly not responding adequately to sex abuse by other priests and Cardinal McCarrick for abusing victims himself.
In these troubled times, he likens his relationship to the church to wedding vows.
In Washington, Archbishop Gregory will have a powerful pulpit in the political center of the country and he said he plans to tread carefully.
Archbishop Gregory has presided over tremendous growth in the Catholic community in North Georgia and said he misses his church family here already.
He said it could be eight to 12 months before the pope decides who will replace him in Atlanta.
He will be installed as the next Archbishop of Washington, DC on May 21.