ROME – With ongoing debate on whether prochoice politicians such as United States President Joe Biden should be able to receive communion, Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington has said bishops who make that decision are not there to police their people, but to guide them as pastors.

Currently in Rome for the first time since being made a cardinal in November 2020, Gregory made the visit in large part to take position of his titular church in Rome, Santa Maria Immacolata in Grottarossa.

While the church is overseen by its pastor, Father Valerio Bortolotti, Gregory’s symbolic patronage of the parish ties him closer to Rome and ties the parish itself closer to the pope.

When non-Italian cardinals visit Rome, they usually pay a visit to their titular church to offer Mass and visit with parishioners. Some even lend a hand in funding repairs or additions their titular parishes might need.

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During a brief Sept. 27 liturgy for the possession, delayed for a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Gregory presided over a praying of the psalms from the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours and offered words of gratitude in Italian to the parish community, asking for mutual prayer between them and the Archdiocese of Washington.

After Monday’s service, Gregory conducted brief interviews with a small number of journalists from different outlets, including Crux.

In his remarks to Crux, Gregory touched on several hot-button issues for Catholics in the United States, including the ongoing debate on whether Catholic prochoice politicians ought to be allowed to receive communion, and Pope Francis’s recent decision to restrict access to the Traditional Latin Mass.

Gregory also spoke about the diverging opinions among Catholics on COVID-19 vaccines, and reflected on where he believes Catholics in today’s hyper-polarized and divided ecclesial scene can find common ground.

Please read below for Crux’s interview with Cardinal Wilton Gregory:

Crux: On his way back from Slovakia, Pope Francis answered some questions about the reception of communion by pro-choice politicians. He said abortion is a crime and told bishops to be shepherds when making decisions about communion. How helpful were his words in terms of the current US situation?

Gregory: I think it was extraordinarily helpful, and it reminded the bishops, all of us, that we’re not there as police, we’re there as pastors, and as pastors, we certainly have to teach the faith of the Church, we have to be true to the Church’s heritage of faith, but we also have to bring people along with us. It is not simply a matter of pointing out their errors. That’s a part of our job, but the other part is welcoming and drawing them closer to the life of the Church, and we need to do that more effectively, more publicly.

So, I was very grateful for the Holy Father’s words. I felt supported by his words, and I think bishops should reflect on how he is trying to support us in our pastoral service to our people.

What does it mean for you for bishops to “act as shepherds” on issues like this?

It seems to me that a Good Shepherd, using that image that the Lord himself used, is always looking for the ones that stray. It’s easy to be a shepherd if the whole flock stays together. It’s more challenging if one or two of the sheep stray and then you have to go out and get them and place them on your shoulders and bring them back to the flock that belongs to Christ.

Another contentious issue in the United States recently is the pope’s decision to restrict access to the Traditional Latin Mass. He said that he made this decision after consulting with bishops worldwide. In your diocesan experience, does this decision from the pope go too far, or was it necessary?

I think the Holy Father acted wisely, and I think he acted pastorally, because again, we go back to that image of being a good shepherd, he wants to keep the whole flock together. I think that was the heart and soul of his intent, and hopefully it will be the end result of that decision.

Another big issue has been the discussion about vaccine mandates. Where do you stand on this?

I think it would be foolish on the part of anyone who has access to these vaccines not to take them as a source of protection for their families, for their neighbors, for themselves. It’s hard to imagine someone objecting on religious grounds, because the Holy Father, Pope Benedict, both of them have had it, I’ve had it, and a good number of Church leaders, not just Catholic church leaders, but Church leaders throughout the world, have taken the vaccine as a sign to their people that this is an action that is helpful for their lives and for the lives of their loved ones.

Finally, all of the issues I’ve mentioned are very divisive for Catholics right now. How can Catholics today find unity, even when they strongly disagree about topics like these?

First of all, I think the source of our unity has always been, and it is today, the Eucharist. Hopefully we will find ways to come around the Lord’s table, and even with those who we might have disagreements with, to say, that is a brother, that is a sister, I don’t agree with everything, but that is the Lord and he loves us all and he draws us around that altar.

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