Washington’s Archbishop Gregory expects ‘respectful’ dialogue with President Biden
Cardinal-designate Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, celebrates Mass Oct. 25 at Holy Angels Church in Avenue, Maryland. (CNS/Catholic Standard/Andrew Biraj)
ROME — Washington, D.C., Archbishop Wilton Gregory expects being able to dialogue with U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, only the second Catholic to be elected to the nation’s highest office, “in an honest and respectful way.”
In an NCR interview ahead of the Vatican’s Nov. 28 event at which Pope Francis will make Gregory one of 13 new cardinals of the Catholic Church, the archbishop said he imagines being able to work with Biden on issues of mutual interest but also to raise matters of concern from the church’s perspective.
“I certainly hope to be able to be in dialogue with him,” the cardinal-designate said of Biden.
“Working with him in those areas where we can collaborate because we are pursuing issues that are important both to the church as well as to his own administration,” Gregory explained. “But I also have to be honest with him in highlighting the areas where there is serious disagreement.”
“Being in conversation, being in dialogue, means more than just speaking about the happy things, [but] to talk about the challenging things as well,” the cardinal-designate said, adding: “In a respectful way. A respectful way.”
Gregory, who will be only the fourth American Francis has made a cardinal in his nearly eight-year papacy, was speaking in a video interview from Rome, where he has been observing a 10-day quarantine in accordance with Italy’s coronavirus prevention measures ahead of the Nov. 28 event.
The cardinal-designate’s comments about working with Biden come after the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez, announced on Nov. 17 the formation of a new working group to consider how American prelates should handle the president-elect’s Catholicism, especially his stance on supporting legal abortion.
Gomez’s announcement came at the end of the bishops’ annual meeting, held virtually this year. Gregory said he had only been able to attend about an hour of the meeting, because of the scheduling of his flight to Rome, and “wasn’t there” when the new working group was announced.
“I hope that whatever the outcome is, it advances the work of the church, it strengthens the relationship of the church in the United States with the administration and it provides a guidance for ways, again, we can work in collaboration,” said the cardinal-designate.
Gregory also spoke in the interview about what he thinks Francis needs most from his cardinals, who are typically a pope’s closest advisors and collaborators. The cardinal-designate said he thinks Francis needs “loyalty, honesty, integrity and collaboration” from them.
But Gregory said the pope also expects frankness. “There’s no sense in being a collaborator, a close collaborator, if you don’t tell the man the truth — at least the truth as far as you can tell,” said the prelate.
One thing Gregory said he expected to be able speak to Francis about are the dynamics of the U.S. Catholic Church.
“I hope I can help him understand better, at least as far as I can ascertain, what is the health and the vitality and the hopes and the dreams of the church in the United States, from my vantage point in Washington, D.C.”
Gregory, who is the first African American Archbishop of Washington and the first Black U.S. cardinal, also said he hopes “to be able to speak with clarity and with integrity about the hopes and the dreams and the aspirations of the African American community.”
The cardinal-designate was serving as Archbishop of Atlanta before being appointed to Washington by Francis in April 2019. He said he has found the church in the nation’s capital an “enthusiastic” community.
“People are looking for compassion, understanding, honesty and integrity in their ministers,” said Gregory. “I’ve discovered that in the Archdiocese of Washington. It is a very healthy church.”
[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent.
I reckon the Pope knew what he was doing when he appointed Archbishop Wilton Gregory to be the first black leader of the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S., and now raising him the the cardinalate in Washington, D.C.
Now that it has been acknowledged to be racist, the Catholic Church in America has the chance to up its game with the appointment, by the Pope, of this charismatic black cleric to the historic cardinalate, in the place where he has the best opportunity to dialogue with the new POTUS, Joe Biden, on the matter of institutional racism.
Having already – together with a number of Catholic bishops in the U.S. – welcomed the new President to the White House (despite Donald Trump’s reluctance to vacate the U.S. Presidency); the new Cardinal-elect will be in a position to dialogue witth President Biden – not only on the matter of overturning the culture of racism throughout America, but also, more controversially, on Joe’s known position on abortion, homophobia and sexism.
However, from his own statement on this new opportunity , the Cardinal-elect will not adopt the aggressive stance of some of the more conservative American bishops, who are already pontificating about Joe Biden’s open opposition to the anti-abortionists (Joe has given evidence of believing that a woman’s body and its functioning are her own business), and his open welcome to the LGBT+ community. The new cardinal’s dialogue with the new President will be what he calls ‘respectful’ – a characteristic that could never be attributed to the behaviour of the outgoing POTUS, whose attitude towards Christianity was to only foster a relationship with those conservative fundamentalists (Catholic or Protestant) who clearly saw him as the new ‘Messiah’!
The world looks forward now to Donald Trump’s inevitable stepping down as POTUS, a situation he, himself, may be dreading because of certain legal issues he will have to face about his mismanagement and inappropriate fiscal behaviour during his presidency.
The integrity of the United States of America, which has been at stake over this first term of Donald trump’s Presidency, now has a chance of being restored. International alliances that had been curtailed during the trump regime will hopefully be re-kindled.
The management of the COVID19 pandemic, which has claimed an unconscionable number of victims in the U.S. – mainly because of Trump’s cynical dismissal of its growing threat to the population – will now be in the hands of a person whose integrity and common sense will help to restore confidence in government leadership on this and other issues that require urgent and efficient consideration.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand