ROME – Speaking of the recent election of Joe Biden as president of the United States, Cardinal-designate Wilton Gregory, who will get his red hat from Pope Francis Saturday, has said that while the new administration certainly poses challenges for the Catholic Church, he believes there are also many points of convergence, including the fight against racism.
“I think it’s very important that the Church engage the administration, engage and dialogue with them, both about things we find problematic, in conflict, but also in dialogue with the administration on those things that we can pursue together because they are shared values,” Gregory said in an interview with Crux.
While abortion and respect for life in its beginning and ending stages “are areas where we may find clear divergence of opinions,” Gregory said he also sees several points of commonality with the incoming Biden administration, including “A better respect for the dignity of our immigrant community, the cessation of capital punishment,” and “the pursuit of racial and social justice issues.”
Calling the battle against racism a “work in progress,” Gregory said it’s an issue which, since the killing of George Floyd in May, has captured global attention in the media, business, athletic and academic sectors.
“This is not one of those issues that was important on Monday and forgotten by Thursday,” he said. “It is something that has captured, I hope, the attention of society, and I hope it continues in that vein, because it’s going to take a long time, an honest dialogue, and sincere conversation, speaking and listening, so that we understand one another more effectively, and that involves the Church as well.”
Currently in quarantine in Rome, Gregory was appointed Archbishop of Washington in 2019 and is among 13 prelates who will be getting a red hat from Pope Francis Nov. 28, on the eve of the Church’s liturgical season of Advent. The only American in the bunch, Gregory will also be the United States’ first black cardinal.
In his interview with Crux, Gregory also discussed fallout from the Vatican’s recently-published report on laicized ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick detailing what it knew about his sexual misconduct amid his rise to power in the Catholic Church, as well as the coronavirus pandemic and how his archdiocese is handling pastoral care amid tight restrictions to stop the spread.
Please read below for Crux’s conversation with Cardinal-designate Wilton Gregory:
Crux: You are getting your red hat at a very unique time, there’s a lot going on in the universal Church. Particularly in the United States, this comes right after the publication of the McCarrick report. What was your biggest takeaway from the report, and what are the implications for the Church in the United States?
Gregory: My biggest takeaway was certainly sadness at the awful details that were made public, but also gratitude that the Holy See did such a thorough, investigative report and made it available to everyone in its entirety. That was very important so the whole world could see it. It was not a report that was filtered or interpreted by people even with the best and most professional competences. It’s out there for everyone.
What do I hope is the result? That we don’t make these mistakes again: mistakes of bad judgement, mistakes of not (following) procedure, and most importantly, not putting the faithful first; the young people and the adults who were violated by this man, not putting them first.
A lot of this was centered on his time in Washington D.C. How are people handling this back home?
A lot of it took place in Washington, a lot of it didn’t take place in Washington! The events that led to Theodore McCarrick’s removal from the college of cardinals and the priesthood occurred outside of the Archdiocese of Washington … We should be really concerned about the people that were harmed no matter where they were harmed, because again, focusing on the survivors, the victims, the families and loved ones of those victims, they should be and should have been the focal point from day one.
Shifting gears, I’d like to ask about something that is also of great relevance in the United States, which is the election of a new president, Joe Biden. A Biden presidency certainly presents many opportunities but also many challenges in terms of working with the Catholic Church. In your view, what are the most important examples of each of those, and what would be your approach to engaging this administration?
Let me use the word you just introduced in this conversation, and that is engage. I think it’s very important that the Church engage the administration, engage and dialogue with them, both about things we find problematic, in conflict, but also in dialogue with the administration on those things that we can pursue together because they are shared values. Both of those are important. Certainly, to highlight those areas where there is great difference and disagreement between the administration’s presumed policies and the clear position of the Church, but also to work collaboratively with the administration on areas where we find common interest.
Do you have any examples of what you think those areas might be?
Common interest things? A better respect for the dignity of our immigrant community, the cessation of capital punishment, the execution of peoples in prisons, the pursuit of racial and social justice issues that have captured the headlines and the social media interests across the globe, not just in the United States, but these (discussions) are being played out in countries around the world. So, I think those are very significant areas that we can pursue in a common effort. Obviously, the respect of unborn life and the respect of life in its end stages are areas where we may find clear divergence of opinions, and we have to be honest in acknowledging those as well.
You mentioned race relations as one of those areas of opportunities. You yourself have been a leader in this conversation for decades in the United States, both in the Church and society as a whole. Where do you think this conversation stands right now, and what can the Church do to be an effective partner in carrying this forward amid current tensions?
Where does it stand both in terms of the Church as well as wider society? It’s a work in progress. I think one of the things that’s happened with great intensity since the awful events of the killing of George Floyd and so many other people of color, is that attention has now been given to these areas across a broad spectrum: the media is pursuing it, businesses are pursuing it, the athletic world is pursuing it, the academic world is pursuing it, and they are tenacious about it. This is not one of those issues that was important on Monday and forgotten by Thursday. It is something that has captured, I hope, the attention of society, and I hope it continues in that vein, because it’s going to take a long time, an honest dialogue, and sincere conversation, speaking and listening, so that we understand one another more effectively, and that involves the Church as well.
In the Archdiocese of Washington, we’ve embarked upon a series of dialogue sessions. The program is called “Made in His Image,” and it allows people in our parishes and institutions to be able to have civil, honest conversation about the issue of race and justice, so that we both speak the truth, but we listen to one another. That’s very important, and I think that’s part of what the Church must continue to do, not just in the Archdiocese of Washington, but throughout the country. I think our most recent pastoral letter on racism is a great springboard for those kinds of conversations.
I also wanted to ask about the coronavirus. This is something that is impacting people all over the world, and it’s particularly serious in the Unites States right now. As a pastor, what has been your approach to handling this, and do you have a message for people who are struggling because of the pandemic?
First of all, I’ve encouraged our pastors and parish ministers to reach out to their people, and they’ve done so in many creative ways. I’m very pleased to read and learn about ways that our priests, deacons and parish ministers have used social media, used creative ways to keep in touch with their people, but obviously, we are a sacramental Church, we are a Church that worships God both in sign and symbol, in physical contact, and we use human elements to probe the mystery of God, so it’s difficult to celebrate our Catholic identity without those physical implements that we call sacraments, that we call the encounter of God with his people using the ordinary things of human life.
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