Religion can now be added to the growing list of areas experiencing racial reckonings after Pope Francis announced this weekend that an African American was among the 13 people who have been promoted to the Catholic Church‘s rank of cardinal. That will make Wilton Gregory, an archbishop based in Washington, D.C., the first Black American cardinal in the Vatican’s history.
But perhaps equally as notable as Gregory’s new appointment is the fact that members of the Catholic Church can rest assured that he — much like the pope — will not hold his tongue when it comes to opining on controversial topics. There may not be anybody else who knows that fact better than Donald Trump, who was on the receiving end of Gregory’s disappointment in June when the president visited a shrine honoring Pope John Paul II as America began protesting George Floyd‘s police killing.
That was when the president visited the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in the nation’s capital for what USA Today called “a brief photo opportunity” with first lady Melania Trump holding a bible after law enforcement and soldiers used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse legal and nonviolent protesters. When Gregory showed up at the same place a day later, he made no secret of how he felt about Trump — who has encouraged police to “not be too nice” to “thugs” — being there.
“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,” Gregory, 72, said at the time.
In addition to his very astute and accurate accounting of Trump, Gregory has a real history of advocating for civil rights, including speaking out against Floyd’s killing and, as Reuters reminded readers, “aggressively addressing the Roman Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandals and shoring up the church’s zero-tolerance policy.”
Gregory also lamented last year about Trump’s race-baiting, including controversial comments that included calling Baltimore “disgusting” and a “rodent infested mess” in response to the late Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings (who spearheaded Robert Mueller’s investigation of Trump) criticized the president’s immigration policy at the border.
“I fear that recent public comments by our President and others and the responses they have generated, have deepened divisions and diminished our national life,” Gregory told the Catholic Standard in an interview published last summer.
He added later in the interview: “As an American, a Christian, a Catholic pastor, I pray that our President, other national leaders and all Americans will do all we can to respect the dignity of all God’s children and nothing to further divide our nation. The growing plague of offense and disrespect in speech and actions must end.”
Those comments came nearly two years after Gregory called Trump’s decision to end Obama’s protection of the nation’s youngest immigrants — also known as DACA — “profoundly regrettable.”
Aside from their religion, Gregory and Pope Francis also apparently have similar scrutiny of Trump in common. The pope has more than demonstrated that he has plenty of doubt about the president, including whether Trump is really the “pro-life” Christian who cares about the environment he says he is.
Regardless of the Trump factor, though, Gregory’s appointment is truly historic and should serve as an inspiration to other Black American Catholics, Jose Gomez, the archbishop of Los Angeles.
“Pope Francis is sending a powerful message of hope and inclusion to the Church in the United States,” Gomez, who succeeded Gregory as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told Reuters. “The naming of the first African American cardinal from the United States gives us an opportunity to pause and offer thanks for the many gifts African American Catholics have given the Church.”