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Catholic archbishop says Trump visit to St. John Paul II shrine "violates our religious principles"

Posted at 11:33 AM, Jun 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-02 14:16:54-04

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, the first African American archbishop of the Archdiocese of Washington, condemned President Trump's visit to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine. He said the visit "violates our religious principles."

"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 said in a statement. The shrine is operated independently by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic community organization.

"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," Gregory continued.

Gregory's statement came after the president took photos in front of St. John's Episcopal Church on Monday after peaceful protesters had been cleared out from nearby Lafayette Park with tear gas.

Reverend Mariann Edgar Budde, who oversees the church and the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C., criticized Mr. Trump's photo opportunity at St. John's Church without even stopping to pray. She told "CBS This Morning" on Tuesday that she wasn't informed in advance the president would visit, and called Mr. Trump's photo-op a "symbolic misuse of the most sacred texts of our tradition."

Republican Senator Ben Sasse on Tuesday condemned Mr. Trump's visit to the church in a statement.

"There is a fundamental—a Constitutional—right to protest, and I'm against clearing out a peaceful protest for a photo op that treats the Word of God as a political prop," Sasse said.

However, some of the president's evangelical allies praised Mr. Trump's visit to St. John's. Robert Jeffress, an evangelical pastor who preached in St. John's for the president's inauguration, condemned "anarchists" he said set fire to the historic church on Sunday. The church was damaged by a small basement fire set by protesters on Sunday.

"I believe President Trump was absolutely correct in walking over last evening and standing in front of that church to show his solidarity not only with that congregation but with houses of worship across America," Jeffress said in an interview with "Fox & Friends" on Tuesday morning.