Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory strongly criticized a June 2 visit by President Donald Trump to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in the nation's capital, saying, “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.”

The president's visit to the Catholic facility was scheduled on the morning after members of the National Guard fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square across from the White House, who were protesting the killing of George Floyd, an African American man who died May 25 after a Minneapolis police office knelt on his neck for an extended time during an arrest. Since then, demonstrations protesting police brutality against people of color have been held across the country. 

The Washington Post reported that after the crowd was cleared during that June 1 incident near the White House, the president and some other government officials walked to St. John's Episcopal Church, which had been set on fire during protests over the weekend. As the president stood in front of St. John's, he held a Bible while TV cameras filmed him and media took his photo. Later that evening, Bishop Mariann Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington said she was “outraged” by that action being taken against the demonstrators “so they could use one of our churches as a prop.”

Here is the text of Archbishop Gregory's June 2 statement:

“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. 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.”

On May 31, Archbishop Gregory issued a statement on the police killing of George Floyd and the aftermath of nationwide protests, saying, “This incident reveals the virus of racism among us once again even as we continue to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.” 

In that May 31 statement, Archbishop Gregory -- who is the first African American archbishop of Washington -- said, “We owe immense appreciation to our first responders who are currently working tirelessly to care for us and keep us safe. We remain grateful to them for their commitment to serve our community by protecting and saving lives. However, as a society, must find ways to understand and to respond to the pain of our brothers and sisters.” 

Archbishop Gregory closed that earlier statement by saying, “Please join me in asking Our Father for the balm of love, justice, peace, compassion and mercy to end racism and hatred now. Come, Holy Spirit, come.”