In a crowded bar, bustling with young adult Catholics from the Washington, D.C. area for the monthly Theology on Tap, Archbishop Wilton Gregory shared his pain over what this archdiocese suffered in the past year due to priestly abuse scandals, and encouraged the young adults to turn to the Eucharist as a source of healing. 

“I’m not quite as young as you, but I, too, am let down by the leadership in the Church,” Archbishop Gregory said. “I’ve been embarrassed. I’ve been embarrassed as a Catholic, as a priest, and as a bishop, because of the behavior by some of my fellow clerics… when the family has been embarrassed, everyone in the family feels embarrassed, and I do too. I know this past year has been an extraordinarily painful year for Washington.”

At its new location at Public Bar Live near Dupont Circle, hundreds attended the Aug. 13 Theology on Tap to hear from the archbishop, who answered questions ranging from his daily prayer life and his favorite restaurants in Rome, to his conversion story as a young boy in Chicago. He also answered questions about the abuse crisis, inclusivity and sensitivity within the Church and evangelization as young Catholics going out throughout the country. 

“You cannot be a Catholic and sit on the sidelines,” Archbishop Gregory told the young people. “To be a member of the Church means you’ve got to get in and get your hands dirty in the mix of the whole arena of faith from what we believe and profess to how we live and treat one another... You can’t not invest yourself into this family. 

“To belong to a family means that you are invested in the life, the struggles, the pain, the joys that belong to being a member of this family, and that includes our faith, what we hold as true, and also it involves our investment in social justice dimensions of our faith. You can’t be a good Catholic invested in Eucharistic Adoration, but unconcerned about the poor, those waiting to be born, those on death row. You’ve got to buy the whole lot.” 

Sponsored by DCCatholic, the young adult ministry of the Archdiocese of Washington, Theology on Tap invites young adults 21-late 30s into monthly discussions about living out the Catholic faith in the world. 

Hundreds showed up at Public Bar Live in Dupont to hear from the new Archbishop. (CS Photo: Andrew Biraj) 

Archbishop Gregory recently moved to the Archdiocese of Washington from the Archdiocese of Atlanta, and was installed as archbishop here on May 21. The appointment, he said, came as a surprise, as he expected to remain in Atlanta until retirement. 

“I was stunned for a couple of reasons,” he said. “I was 71 and that’s not usually the age you get a new job... But I can also say, since coming here – even with the challenges, which there are many – I feel energized, I feel like I have a new lease on life. I’m just glad that (Pope) Francis couldn’t find anybody better.” 

Betsy Pray, a member of St. Peter’s on Capitol Hill who has lived in the area for five years, said she was surprised to see the archbishop so open with the young adults. 

“He’s only been here for a couple of months,” she said. “He had the expectation of being in one archdiocese (Atlanta) for the rest of his time, but I’m very optimistic that he’s here. It was very reassuring to hear from him.”

The archbishop made a commitment during the evening to restore the trust in his archdiocese, mainly by being an “ordinary member of this local Church,” he said. 

“That is, someone who identifies with the people, demonstrates that he is comfortable with his people, enjoys being with his people and I will try to the best of my ability to continue doing that, to be available and immersed in the life of this local Church,” Archbishop Gregory said.

He also shared his hope to bring a Laudato Si' action plan on caring for the environment to the archdiocese, similar to what he helped form in the Atlanta alongside the University of Georgia. 

“I would like to see it and would be willing to adapt it to the Archdiocese of Washington,” he said, continuing that he would like to be in conversation with the local universities. 

Many young adults said they were encouraged by the archbishop’s answers to their questions.

“It’s a tough time to be Catholic,” Nadia Barnett, a member at St. Andrew Apostle Parish in Silver Spring, Maryland, said, noting how she appreciated the archbishop’s emphasis on the family of the Church. 

“His commitment to being the listener is refreshing,” Barnett continued. “Especially here, at a bar.” 

The archbishop also encouraged parishes to be open for more times of Eucharistic Adoration, with the hopes that the Eucharist can bring healing to the local Church. 

“I wasn’t sure how somebody from Georgia would fit in,” Alisa Zacharia said. 

Also a member of St. Andrew Apostle Parish in Silver Spring, she said she was “shocked” by how much importance the archbishop placed on the Eucharistic presence.

“It’s sad that a lot of clergy don’t explicitly say that,” Zacharia said. “But it is necessary.”

Jaime Narbon, who has been in the area for the past seven years, said after the end of the evening the archbishop “seemed to me to be a person that knows how to reach out to communities.” 

“He acknowledged the pain the Church faces, acknowledging the fault and culpability that the clergy has had in the whole crisis,” Narbon continued. “He didn’t put away blame or sugar coat it.” 

Narbon said he was thankful for the answers of the archbishop to questions on social justice issues, particularly the archbishop’s emphasis on the dignity of the human person and being created in the image and likeness of God. 

“But more importantly about the Eucharist as a source of healing,” Narbon said. “The Church stands by the teaching of the Real Presence. He encouraged priests, religious and laity to be engaged.” 

To watch and listen to the Archbishop’s answers to all the questions from this Theology on Tap, head to DCCatholic-Young Adult Ministry of the Archdiocese of Washington Facebook page