The nation’s sole African-American Catholic archbishop is fed up with President Donald Trump‘s attacks and is using his new post as Washington, D.C.’s Catholic leader to “speak out and defend the dignity of all God’s children.”
Wilton Gregory, who was appointed in May, issued his first public statement Thursday, criticizing Trump, 73, for “diminishing our national life” with his incendiary remarks targeting minority lawmakers.
“I’ve stressed that I am a pastor and fellow disciple of Jesus, not a political leader,” Gregory said in remarks released by the Catholic Standard. “There are, however, sometimes, when a pastor and a disciple of Jesus is called to speak out to defend the dignity of all God’s children.”
The archbishop specifically pointed to the president’s attacks on Democratic Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings and the predominately African-American district in Baltimore he represents. In a Twitter tirade, Trump characterized the city as a “disgusting rat and rodent-infested mess” where “no human would want to live.”
“I fear that recent public comments by our President and others and the responses they have generated, have deepened divisions and diminished our national life,” said Gregory.
Trump ignited a political firestorm last month when he ordered “The Fab Four” congresswomen of color — Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) — to “go back” where they came from if they dared to criticize the U.S. Days later, he doubled down on his attacks by calling the lawmakers “young, inexperienced, and not very smart.”
Critics have called the president’s comments outwardly racist, and several religious organizations have come out to denounce Trump for his inflammatory rhetoric. Earlier this week, leaders with the Washington National Cathedral took the president to task over his remarks.
“As faith leaders who serve at Washington National Cathedral … we feel compelled to ask: After two years of President Trump’s words and actions, when will Americans have enough?” the church wrote in a statement entitled “Have We No Decency? A response to President Trump.”
Catholic Archbishop William Lori also reacted to Trump’s attacks on Cummings and the city of Baltimore, calling his tweets “horrible, demeaning and beneath the dignity of a political leader.”
Gregory agreed, saying he felt “sadness and deep regret” over the manner in which the people of Baltimore have been “denigrated in recent public attacks” by the president.
“Comments which dismiss, demean or demonize any of God’s children are destructive of the common good and a denial of our national pledge of ‘liberty and justice for all,’” he wrote.
In his statement, the archbishop indicated that he’s been meeting privately with prominent Catholic lay groups to press them to “promote respect,” and also to work to “reject racism, disrespect or brutality in speech and action.” He also said he prays that Trump and other U.S. leaders will come together to prevent further division — racial, political or otherwise — in our nation.
Gregory, who once served as Atlanta, Georgia’s archbishop, was tapped by Pope Francis to lead Washington’s archdiocese in April. He was officially installed in May, replacing embattled Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who was forced out after being implicated in covering up widespread sexual abuse in the Catholic church.