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Top Washington bishops agree - slamming Trump's church visits was right

Top Washington bishops agree - slamming Trump's church visits was right
One is a white female Episcopal bishop, the other is a black male Catholic archbishop -- Trump unifies them in scorn

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
June 8, 2020

WASHINGTON, DC -- The two top bishops in the District of Columbia have come to an unusual meeting-of-the-minds. They both decry President Donald Trump's unexpected visits to their respective churches last week.

One is a white liberal female Episcopal bishop -- Bishop Mariann Budde (IX Washington) -- the other is a black male Roman Catholic Archbishop - Wilton Gregory (VII Washington). They couldn't be more different, yet Trump unified them in protesting his visits to their sacred properties.

The President's church visits were surrounded by the protests, civil unrest and riots stemming from the death of George Floyd on Memorial Day (May 25) in Minneapolis. George Floyddied under the knee of a police officer who had him penned to the ground during an attempted arrest. Mr. Floyd is black; the police officer is white. And now the Black Lives Matter movement is again in full force with protests spreading not only though every state, but also around the world.

Peaceful assembly and protest have turned violent with civilian protestors and police injured or killed. The night sky turns orange with burning buildings while looters break into stores and wipe them clean of merchandise.


On Pentecost Eve (May 30), St. John's Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square was damaged by fire resulting from the escalating Justice for George Floyd protests. By Monday (May 31), the iconic pastel yellow church's Ashburton House parish hall, where the fire took place causing about $200,000 in damage, was boarded up to prevent entrance into the facility and adding a layer of protection from further damage by rioting protestors. Since mid-March and due to COVID-19, St. John's had not been holding in-church services.

Now the church has instituted a "Ministry of Presence" in the "days and weeks to come" to provide a "peaceful, prayerful presence in support of justice and healing in our country" and provide a visible presence to protect the property from further protest-related damage. An outdoor Sunday service was held on Trinity Sunday (June 7) which drew a huge crowd of protestors.

St. John's is an historic Episcopal church. It is considered the Church of the Presidents. Every US President since James Madison in 1816 has darkened the door of St. John's at least once. In all, 40 American Chief Executives have worshipped or prayed at St. John's.

Last Monday afternoon (June 1), Trump walked across Lafayette Square, entourage in tow, to St. John's Episcopal Church for a photo op which showed him, stone-faced, holding up a Revised Standard Version Bible in front of St. John's boarded up parish hall's church sign.


"I am outraged," Bishop Budde told The Washington Post. "I am the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and was not given even a courtesy call, that they would be clearing [Lafayette Park] with tear gas so they could use one of our churches as a prop."

She expanded her comment on Tuesday's the TODAY Show.

"I also was deeply disappointed that he did not come to church to pray. He didn't come to church to offer condolences to those who are grieving. He didn't come to commit to healing our nation. All the things we could expect and long for from the highest leader in the land," she said Tuesday on NBC's morning show.

She also told the TODAY Show that: "The only time that President Trump has been at St. John's Church was on the morning of his inauguration."

However, the Episcopal bishop misspoke. Trump has visited St. John's at least three times. The media reports that he attended Easter services in April 2017, a National Day of Prayer service in September 2017, and a Lenten service in March 2019.

Twice Trump has also attended services at the National Cathedral -- Bishop Budde's cathedral in Washington, DC. In early December 2018, the Trumps attended President George H.W. Bush's funeral and then the First Couple returned later that month for a Christmas Eve service.

Also, on Tuesday (June 2) the U.S. Park Police debunked the claim, championed by the media and repeated by Bishop Budde, that tear gas was used to clear Lafayette Park before Trump's visit to St. John's. The Park Police said that smoke canisters were employed.

Later Tuesday, Trump, along with First Lady Melania Trump, went to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine near the Catholic University of America where they did kneel in prayer. It was at the Catholic shrine that the First Couple laid a red, white and blue wreath in front of Pope John Paul II's statue and knelt in prayer in the Luminous Mysteries Chapel. President Trump is not Roman Catholic, but Mrs. Trump is the first Catholic First Lady since Jacqueline Kennedy (1960-1963). President John F. Kennedy has, so far, been the only Catholic president to be elected. The presumptive Democratic nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden is Catholic.

After returning to the White House, President Trump signed an executive order on "advancing international religious freedom." He has been a strong advocate for First Amendment religious rights.

"Religious freedom, America's first freedom, is a moral and national security imperative," Trump's executive order reads. "Religious freedom for all people worldwide is a foreign policy priority of the United States and the United States will respect and vigorously promote this freedom."


Bishop Budde took offense that Trump visited St. John's and did not come to pray. Her Catholic counterpart, Archbishop Gregory, took offense that the President and his Catholic First Lady came to visit St. John Paul II Shrine where they did kneel in prayer.

"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," Catholic Archbishop Gregory said in a formal statement. "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."

Trump's visit to the Catholic shrine seems to have been a scheduled event tied into the signing of the executive order on international religious freedom.

The Shrine also put out its own statement saying that it was fitting for Trump to visit the Catholic house of prayer before signing his order dealing with religious freedom.

"The shrine welcomes all people to come and pray and learn about the legacy of St. John Paul II," the Shrine's statement said. "This was fitting given St. John Paul II was a tireless advocate of religious liberty throughout his pontificate. International religious freedom receives widespread bipartisan support, including unanimous passage of legislation in defense of persecuted Christians and religious minorities around the world."

Archbishop Gregory is the highest-ranking black bishop in the American Catholic Church. He is the only African American archbishop in the United States. And he has been recently reassigned from Atlanta to Washington, DC, which seems to be a cardinalate post.

Other American cardinalate posts are in Chicago, Houston, New York, Boston and Newark. Former cardinalate posts were Los Angeles, Detroit and Philadelphia.

The Archbishop hails from Chicago and from 2001-2004 he was the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Catholic version of the Episcopal House of Bishops.


The highest-ranking African America bishop in The Episcopal Church is Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, formerly the XI Bishop of North Carolina. The Presiding Bishop, too, had harsh words for Trump's visit to St. John's.

"This evening, the President of the United States stood in front of St. John's Episcopal Church, lifted up a Bible, and had pictures of himself taken. In so doing, he used a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes. This was done in a time of deep hurt and pain in our country, and his action did nothing to help us or to heal us," the first black Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church said in a released statement. "We need our President, and all who hold office, to be moral leaders who help us to be a people and nation living these values. For the sake of George Floyd, for all who have wrongly suffered, and for the sake of us all, we need leaders to help us to be 'one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all'."

Bishop Budde agreed with her Presiding Bishop. She said on the TODAY Show that the President's photo op at her church failed to provided leadership.

"It did not serve the spiritual aspirations or the needed moral leadership that we need. It did not address the grievous wounds that we are dealing with and the agony of our country," she said. "It was an abuse of spiritual tools and symbols of our tradition and of our sacred space."


By Saturday evening (June 6), Catholic Archbishop Carlo Viganò weighed into the fray surrounding Trump, giving a spiritual insight to the confluence over coronavirus pandemic and the George Floyd riots. He is seeing the current upheaval through spiritual eyes rather than through race or politics.

From 2011-2016, Archbishop Viganò was the third papal nuncio to the United States. As the papal apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Viganò was the Vatican's ambassador to America. For five years he was stationed in Washington, DC, so he knows the city, its spirituality and its politics.

"In recent months we have been witnessing the formation of two opposing sides that I would call Biblical: the children of light and the children of darkness. The children of light constitute the most conspicuous part of humanity, while the children of darkness represent an absolute minority," he writes to the 45th President of the United States. "In society, Mr. President, these two opposing realities co-exist as eternal enemies, just as God and Satan are eternal enemies."

Archbishop Viganò also commended Trump on his signing the executive order for worldwide religious freedom.

"For the first time, the United States has in you a President who courageously defends the right to life, who is not ashamed to denounce the persecution of Christians throughout the world, who speaks of Jesus Christ and the right of citizens to freedom of worship," he writes. "For this reason, I believe that the attack to which you were subjected after your visit to the National Shrine of Saint John Paul II is part of the orchestrated media narrative which seeks not to fight racism and bring social order, but to aggravate dispositions; not to bring justice, but to legitimize violence and crime; not to serve the truth, but to favor one political faction."

Archbishop Viganò supports Trump's visit to the Shrine, not Archbishop Gregory's disgust.

"Mr. President, my prayer is constantly turned to the beloved American nation, where I had the privilege and honor of being sent by Pope Benedict XVI as Apostolic Nuncio. In this dramatic and decisive hour for all of humanity, I am praying for you and also for all those who are at your side in the government of the United States. I trust that the American people are united with me and you in prayer to Almighty God," the Archbishop wrote: "United against the Invisible Enemy of all humanity, I bless you and the First Lady, the beloved American nation, and all men and women of good will."


The Catholic Church in America was established in 1789, four years after The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America was formed in 1785 through the formation of the House of Deputies and first General Convention held in Philadelphia. The House of Bishops was added in 1789.

Since 1789, only 25 black American Catholic bishops have been created and 34 African American bishops were elected in the domestic Episcopal Church. The first African American US-based Episcopal bishop was Edward Demby (Arkansas-suffragan) in 1918. In 1962, the first black domestic diocesan Episcopal bishop was elected. He was John Burgess (X Massachusetts).

There are 195 Catholic dioceses and archdioceses in the United States with 267 working bishops, archbishops and cardinals serving more than 77 million Catholics.

Currently, there are six working Catholic black bishops in the United States. In addition to Archbishop Gregory, there is also Fernand Cheri (New Orleans-auxiliary); Shelton Fabre (IV Houma-Thibodaux); Roy Campbell (Washington-auxiliary); Curtis Guillory (V Beaumont); and Joseph Perry (Chicago-auxiliary). One other sitting African American bishop, George Murry (V Youngstown), died of leukemia on Friday (June 5), leaving that see vacant. A Catholic auxiliary bishop is equivalent to a bishop suffragan in The Episcopal Church.


The Episcopal Church has 99 domestic dioceses serving fewer than two million people, with more than 120 working bishops -- presiding bishop, diocesans, suffragans, coadjutors, provisionals, assistants, pro-tempores or bishops-in-residence drawing some sort of episcopal paycheck.

The Episcopal Church has 10 working black bishops, with one waiting in the wings, six of whom are women. The working African-American Episcopal bishops are: Presiding Bishop Michael Curry; Gayle Harris (Massachusetts-suffragan); Shannon MacVean Brown (XI Vermont); Carlye Hughes (XI Newark); Phoebe Roaf (VI West Tennessee); Eugene Sutton (XIV Maryland); Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows (XI Indianapolis); Kym Lucas (XI Colorado); Robert Wright (X Atlanta); and Carl Wright (VII Armed Forces). Deon Johnson is slated to join the House of Bishops next Saturday (June 13) as the XI Bishop of Missouri. He was originally supposed to be consecrated in April, but the service was postponed due to the Coronavirus. He will become the 50th black bishop in the Episcopal Church's history.

"Over the past 150 years there have been 49 Black Bishops consecrated in the Episcopal Church. These Bishops hail from the African Diaspora, as well as Africa," The Episcopal Church's Office of Black Ministries explains. "The African Diaspora includes those people of African descent living throughout the world in the United States, the Caribbean, Central America and other countries. People of African descent have a long proud heritage in the Episcopal Church. Black Episcopal Bishops have played role in the community in general and the Episcopal Church in particular."

Although the first African American US-based Episcopal bishop was Edward Demby of Arkansas, the first black Episcopal foreign bishop was James Holly (I Haiti) who was born in Washington, DC. and served as rector in New Haven, Connecticut. In 1874, he was consecrated as the Episcopal Missionary Bishop to Haiti and charged by the American Church Missionary Society to bring the Episcopal Church to Haiti. He was the first black Episcopal bishop to be consecrated and the first African American bishop to attend Lambeth Conference in 1878. Today The Episcopal Church considers Haiti its largest diocese, with nearly 90,000 baptized members.

Early Episcopal missionary bishops in foreign dioceses were born in the United States. These included: Samuel Ferguson (IV Liberia) born in South Carolina. In 1885, he was the first black bishop to be welcomed into the Episcopal House of Bishops; Bravis Harris (VIII Liberia) born in North Carolina; Dillard Brown (IX Liberia) born in Georgia; and Cedric Mills (I Virgin Islands) born in Connecticut.

Historically, other black Episcopal bishops in the domestic church include: Edward Demby (Arkansas-suffragan); Henry Delany (North Carolina-suffragan); John Burgess (X Massachusetts); Don Taylor (New York-assistant); Richard Martin (Long Island-suffragan); John Walker (VI Washington) Quintin Primo (Chicago-suffragan); Harold Wright (New York-suffragan); Henry Mayson (Michigan-suffragan); Henry Hucles (Long Island-suffragan); Clarence Coleridge (XIII Connecticut); James Ottley (Southeast Florida-assistant); Arthur Williams (Ohio-suffragan); Orris Walker (VII Long Island); Herbert Thompson (VIII Southern Ohio); Franklin Turner (Pennsylvania-suffragan); Chester Talton (Long Island-suffragan); Victor Scantlebury (Chicago-assistant); Theodore Daniels (Texas-assistant); Daniel Baxter (X Central Pennsylvania); Wendell Gibbs (X Michigan); and Walter Dennis (New York-suffragan).

Bishop Dennis, an attorney, is the architect of the infamous Dennis Canon (Title I.7.4) which has been used by The Episcopal Church to circumvent state property laws to strip departing parishes of their church buildings.

The first black female Episcopal bishop, Barbara Harris (Massachusetts-suffragan) recently died. She died in March. She is the second woman bishop to die. Bishop Jane Dixon (Washington, DC-suffragan) died in 2012.

In all, there have been 40 women elected bishop in the Episcopal Church following in the footsteps of Barbara Harris. Seven are African American, two have died, two are lesbians, one is deposed -- Heather Cook (Maryland-suffragan); one became the first female presiding bishop (Kathrine Jefferts Schori); and the 40th women bishop, Glenda Curry (no relation to Presiding Bishop Curry), is slated to be consecrated the XII Bishop of Alabama on June 27.

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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