Washington Archbishop calls Trump’s visit to National Shrine ‘reprehensible’

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WASHINGTON — Shortly before President Trump arrived at the historic Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington on Tuesday, Wilton D. Gregory, the Catholic Archbishop of Washington, issued a statement calling Trump’s visit “reprehensible” and said the facility was being “misused.”

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump visit Saint John Paul II National Shrine, Tuesday, June 2, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

“I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people even those with whom we might disagree,” Gregory said in the statement.

Gregory, who has led the Archdiocese of Washington since May 2019, referred to the visit as a “photo opportunity.”

“Saint Pope John Paul II was an ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings. His legacy bears vivid witness to that truth. He certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace,” he said.

The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington sharply criticized President Donald Trump on Monday for staging a visit to the historic St. John’s Church across from the White House, where he held up a Bible after authorities had cleared the area of peaceful protesters.

The Rev. Mariann Budde, whose diocese St. John’s belongs to, said she was “outraged” by Trump’s visit and noted that he didn’t pray while stopping by the church, a landmark known for its regular visits from sitting presidents since the early 19th century.

“He took the symbols sacred to our tradition and stood in front of a house of prayer in full expectation that would be a celebratory moment,” Budde said in an interview Monday after her statement on Trump’s visit was posted to the diocese’s Twitter account.

“There was nothing I could do but speak out against that,” she added, calling for a focus on “the deeper wounds of the country” amid ongoing demonstrations against racial injustice.

Trump’s visit “did not serve the spiritual aspirations or the needed moral leadership that we need,” she told NBC’s “Today” on Tuesday. “It did not address the grievous wounds that were are dealing with and the agony of our country.”

She said the church was off-guard by the visit.

As protests nationwide flared following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, St. John’s suffered minor damage Sunday night from a fire in the church basement. Budde said “our suffering was minimal” compared with businesses that were destroyed by recent looting, even as she defended the goals of peaceful protesters responding to Floyd’s killing.

“We can rebuild the church. We can replace the furnishings of a nursery,” she said, referring to the damaged area. “We can’t bring a man’s life back.”

The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, issued his own statement saying that Trump had “used a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes.”

“This was done in a time of deep hurt and pain in our country, and his action did nothing to help us or to heal us,” added Curry, the first African American to hold that leadership post for U.S. Episcopalians.

Budde took her position at the church in Washington in 2011 after spending 18 years in Minneapolis.

“I want to build up the liberal church again so we can be a legitimate conversation partner in the public arena,” she told The Washington Post at the time.

The bishop, who last year joined other Washington National Cathedral leaders in a statement that excoriated Trump’s “racialized rhetoric,” firmly aligned her faith with the goals of peaceful protesters driven by Floyd’s death to decry systemic racism.

“In no way do we support the President’s incendiary response to a wounded, grieving nation,” Budde said in her statement. “In faithfulness to our Savior who lived a life of non-violence and sacrificial love, we align ourselves with those seeking justice for the death of George Floyd.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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