ROME – Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington has praised a new Vatican document on human dignity as a “welcome summation” of Church teaching, including on issues such as gender theory and transgenderism.

Speaking to Crux, Gregory said the document, published Monday and titled Dignitas Infinita, does a good job as summarizing the Church’s moral and doctrinal teaching, and that when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community, Pope Francis has “made it clear that he has great love and affection and respect for people who have a different sexual orientation.”

For those who say the pope should approve of all LGBTQ+ behavior, Gregory said “he can’t if he’s going to be true to the Church’s history and its teaching. He can’t ignore the history of our faith, but he can call us to be respectful of others, but also to invite others to see and to appreciate and to accept the Church’s moral teaching.”

“The most loving parent, at least in my own experience, but watching it in other situations, listens with the heart of the parent to a child, but it doesn’t believe that the child gets everything they ask for,” he said.

Gregory, who is in Rome to attend the Pontifical North American College’s annual Rector’s Dinner, during which he will be given the Rector’s Award, also touched on issues of race and the Synod of Bishops on Synodality, set to close this October in Rome.

He also spoke about tensions between the American Church and Rome and about the intersection of faith and politics as the United States prepares for presidential elections later this year.

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

Crux: You are getting the Rector’s Award at this year’s Rector’s Dinner. What does that mean for you?

Gregory: As someone who has deep affection for the North American College, an alumnus through the Casa, not through the seminary program, I’m quite honored to receive this award. The North American College has provided me with an incredible experience and role. My dearest friends in all the world I met here in Rome 40 plus years ago, and we’re still very, very close.

Rome is also, through the North American College, one of the ways that I came to experience the breadth of Catholicism. I also know that Rome is the place that provided the formation and the education of Agustus Tolton. When no other seminary in the United States would train that man to be a priest, Rome provided the opportunity. Not at the North American, but at the Urbanianum, and I’m just very proud of my contact with Rome. Now of course his cause is before the Dicastery for Saints.

For me, [Rome] means this place, it means friendships, it means the education that I received at the Pontifical Liturgical Institute, so I’m honored to receive the Rector’s Award and to be associated with dozens of people, not just clerics, but laypeople whose generosity and devotion to the North American College has anchored its future. I think their appearance is a very wonderful sign of the needed collaboration between laypeople and clergy. The laypeople who are awarded see in these young men a hopeful promise for priestly ministry in the future.

How important would you say contact is with Rome for seminarians, especially right now when there is a perception that there are tensions between Rome and the US church? Can this contact with Rome help ease those tensions in some way?

I certainly hope and pray that it does. I can’t be a Catholic and disaffected from Rome. It doesn’t mean that every Catholic agrees with everything that happens, but it’s anchored in our familial relationship. Yes, there are some tensions, I’m not going to pretend that there aren’t, but there are always tensions, there’s never been a moment when there’s perfect unity between an individual church, I’ll use the United States church, and the Holy See.

I think in today’s world, with social communications, disagreements that were once done in a less flamboyant way are done on the internet, and disagreements that were once negotiated, are allowed to fester and sometimes (go) un-negotiated with different ecclesial expressions of the Church.

Certainly, I can’t be a bishop disunified from Rome. When I was named, I had to take a promise, that I have tried to live out, that I would live in union with the Holy Father, whoever sits on the Chair of Peter, would have my affection, my respect, and my collaboration. Now, whoever sits on the Chair of Peter should know that I’ll speak honestly of my opinion, hopefully humbly enough to acknowledge that I don’t know everything, that I could have an uninformed opinion or an inaccurate opinion, but it should always be an honest opinion.

How have you navigated these tensions with Rome as a bishop, as a pastor, in your own diocese?

One of the things that I have tried to do is to always speak reverently and affectionately of the Holy Father, and I’ve always done that, whether it was Paul VI; John Paul I, whose pontificate of course was only 30 days; John Paul II, who named me bishop; and Pope Benedict, whom I worked with when I was president of the conference especially, vice president and president, and who I knew very personally; and now Pope Francis.

So, I’ve always tried to make public my respect for those men, and if there’s a disagreement or a misunderstanding, I’ve tried not to overplay it, but to acknowledge that I really didn’t understand why this was done or this was said, but it comes from the Holy Father and therefore it deserves respect and investigation.

Another issue I wanted to ask about is the Synod of Bishops on Synodality. The final session is coming up, so how are you preparing for that, and what issues do you think are most important to bring to the table?

In the Archdiocese of Washington, I’ve been very fortunate to have a leadership team that has spearheaded the conversations, written the reports, engaged the people. We had four follow-up listening sessions, I was able to attend two of the four.

One was with our archdiocesan pastoral council, which was a splendid conversation. For some of them it was the first time they had the chance to sit down with their bishop, open their hearts, and say what was on their minds and what was confusing, and what they disagreed with.

We had a follow up session. In that follow up session there were a couple of things that came up. One is the need to go beyond ‘the parochial description of what it means to be a member of a parish,’ are you registered, because many of them said…there are thousands of people who consider themselves Catholic but they’re not associated with a given parish, and we need to find ways to acknowledge them, invite them, listen to them, because they too have a voice and an important perspective in what it means to practice and live the faith.

The other thing that came from that second sitting with the pastoral council was that our people want a closer relationship with their bishop. They want to see their bishop not just at confirmation and the fiftieth anniversary of the parish. I’m fortunate, I have three wonderful auxiliaries, and as we divide things up, hopefully we provide those opportunities.

My job has two dimensions: a pastoral dimension, which means that I celebrate, pray and stand in the midst of my people, and then administrative responsibilities. I know the administrative dimension needs to be attended to, but I tell you the truth, the more satisfying part of being the Archbishop of Washington is being in the midst of the people.

To go back to the follow up sessions, there were two other environments, one was with inviting our young adults, college age and Newman Center Catholics, to engage in the second round of listening, and then we invited the descendants of the enslaved, many of whom had already expressed a desire to relocate their history and have the Church acknowledge its role in this very sinful legacy and heritage of the United States.

When it comes to the synod, Pope Francis has really emphasized the importance of listening and of conversation in the spirit. Have you found this ‘new style’ of the synod helpful? Has it been fruitful, in your view?

It has… talking about Pope Francis’s frequently expressed desire to have an ongoing dialogue with people, listening to them, and inviting them to speak, both are risky undertakings. If you ask people to tell you what’s really on their heart and mind, you’re probably going to hear some things that are jarring and maybe painful, but always informative, because then you know what the heart of the Church is, because your people are telling you honestly what they long for and what they hope for, and what is annoying to them.

Part of the synodal process isn’t merely speaking, it’s opening your ears and your heart to grasp what is really being said beyond words, to listen to a person. I think, and certainly in accord with the Holy Father’s desire, is not simply to hear words, it’s to listen to hopes and dreams, to hurts, to pains, that people will share with you if they believe that you will honestly listen. If they don’t think you’re going to listen, what good is it for me to tell you what’s in my heart, if I don’t think you’re going to really be able to grasp it or you don’t want to grasp it, you want to listen to words and not to the soul of people.

Related to this, some of the biggest topics of discussion and which got most of media attention were women and LGBTQ issues. How prominent are these topics in the synod hall versus what is seen in the media, and how important do you think it is, as the Church is having a global discussion on these issues, that the Vatican issued a document yesterday on human dignity which touched on gender theory and transgenderism?

I think the document, Dignitas Infinita, is a welcome summation of the Church’s moral and doctrinal teaching. It’s global in its context, and it starts with the significance, the unquestioned – it is questioned, but from the Church’s perspective, the unquestioned dignity that every human being has, from the beginning of life to its conclusion. We believe that the human person has an inviolable human worth and dignity, that is never lost, sometimes it’s been compromised, but it’s never lost.

How is Pope Francis reacting or at least, what is his behavior conveying in terms of his own understanding of these issues and his own approach? First of all, he’s put women in more prominent places in the Holy See than any of his predecessors…there are now more women engaged in the day-to-day leadership aspects of the Holy See than ever before. I think he also expects that in local churches there will be a similar reaction, that women just won’t be voices, but it will be the intelligence and the spiritual wisdom that women bring to the table.

In terms of his outreach to the LGBT community, he’s also made it clear that he has great love and affection and respect for people who have a different sexual orientation. Now, there are those who will say, ‘what he should have done is approve all of the behavior activity of that group.’ Well, he can’t if he’s going to be true to the Church’s history and its teaching. He can’t ignore the history of our faith, but he can call us to be respectful of others, but also to invite others to see and to appreciate and to accept the Church’s moral teaching.

The document, at the end, says that there may be other issues that need further discussion and other areas of human life and social interaction that are not specifically touched upon, but I think…it lays the foundation for these other issues to be brought forth.

What would you say to people who are perhaps confused about the pope’s actions in terms of LGBTQ outreach, or who think he has been incoherent? He asked for greater welcome, he’s authorized blessings for individuals in same-sex relationships, but now he’s called gender theory and transgenderism great dangers to society…

I would say first of all, his respect, his love for people and the LGBTQ community, is already documented, but he also has to call them to a deeper awareness of the Church that they want to belong to, that they do belong to – not just want to belong to, but they do belong to, and its principles of moral vision.

I used this in one of my listening sessions in the Archdiocese of Washington, I said the most loving parent, at least in my own experience, but watching it in other situations, listens with the heart of the parent to a child, but it doesn’t believe that the child gets everything they ask for.

Finally, this is an election year in the United States. I wanted to ask about the complex intersection between faith and politics in the United States. What do you think is the right balance, and where does the US Church stand in this regard?

There has always been a discontinuity, at least from my reading of history in the United States. Religion should offer the moral vision for society. I think the cart’s gone before the horse, and in some cases, the political environment is now offering the moral vision for society, and I don’t think that’s the way religious organizations, structures, can best serve society.

I know that those engaged in public life like to find hooks that they can use to advance their own political, social, opinion, but the Gospel is not a hook, the Gospel is a challenge and when we lose sight of that, we’re in trouble and society is in trouble.

What do you think can be done to change that, to make it faith informing politics and not politics informing faith?

I think we need to recognize the limitations of both. The limitations of political life that doesn’t always respect the human person, sometimes it is so highly influenced by profit that it calls into question the dignity of the human being, and religion really should not be the only voice in the public arena. We should listen to people, their aspirations, their hopes, their dreams, their history.

I would hope that in the future, probably not in my life, we could get into a situation where both social structures would see the value of the other and not try to compromise the other.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on X: @eliseannallen