WASHINGTON — President Trump visited a D.C. shrine honoring Pope John Paul II on Tuesday, a day after his appearance in front of an Episcopal church across from the White House set off a controversy because it involved aggressively clearing peaceful protesters.

In a statement Tuesday morning as the president was arriving, Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory slammed the visit and the tactics Trumped had used for the photo opportunity at St. John’s Episcopal Church.

“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.

The large shrine was opened as a museum to John Paul in 2001, but nose-dived financially and was bailed out in 2011 by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic men’s religious organization that has lobbied for conservative political causes, such as opposing same-sex marriage.

In his statement, Gregory noted the legacy of Pope John Paul II, suggesting he would not have condoned Trump’s actions either.

“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,” Gregory said. “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, who was installed as the first black archbishop of Washington in 2019, previously issued a statement on the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis. The death was the trigger for the protests that have unfolded outside the White House and across the nation for much of the last week.

“The horror of George Floyd’s death, like all acts of racism, hurts all of us in the Body of Christ since we are each made in the image and likeness of God, and deserve the dignity that comes with that existence,” Gregory said last week.

According to White House guidance, the president and first lady Melania Trump were scheduled to depart late in the morning for the four-mile trip to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Northeast Washington, which is adjacent to the Catholic University of America and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Melania Trump identifies as Roman Catholic.

The visit is part of an effort by Trump to focus on international religious freedom. Upon returning to the White House early in the afternoon, he is scheduled to sign an executive order on that subject in the Oval Office.

John Paul’s movement for religious freedom, including in his native Eastern Europe from communism, is considered one of his key legacies. Tuesday is the 41st anniversary of his first papal visit to Poland.

The shrine, according to its website, “is a place of pilgrimage housing two first-class relics of St. John Paul II. Here, through liturgy and prayer, art, and cultural and religious formation, visitors can enter into its patron’s deep love for God and for man.”


Messages to the Knights of Columbus were not immediately returned Tuesday morning. Trump’s attorney, Pat Cipollone, was a top lawyer with the organization, holding the title “supreme advocate.”

On Monday evening, federal authorities used flash-bang shells, gas and rubber bullets to clear peaceful protesters from around the White House ahead of Trump’s walk across Lafayette Square to St. John’s Episcopal Church, where he posed for photos while holding up a Bible. The church’s rector and the region’s Episcopal bishop were outraged that the crowds were forcefully removed to allow for the visit.

“I am the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and was not given even a courtesy call, that they would be clearing [the area] with tear gas so they could use one of our churches as a prop,” the Right Rev. Mariann Budde told The Post.

She excoriated the president for standing in front of the church – its windows boarded up with plywood – while holding a Bible aloft.

“Everything he has said and done is to inflame violence,” Budde said of the president. “We need moral leadership, and he’s done everything to divide us.”

On Tuesday, several pastors stood on the steps of the historic church calling for end to police brutality.


White House officials told The Washington Post, on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, that the president spent much of Monday discussing with his team how to show that the streets of Washington were under control.

A former Trump campaign aide, Jason Miller, told The Post on Monday that Trump’s walk to the church made sense for a president who was elected in part on law-and-order themes.

“He’s not the hand-holder or consoler in chief,” Miller said. “He was elected to take bold, dramatic action and that’s what he did.”

On Tuesday, Stephen Schneck, former head of Catholic outreach for then-President Barack Obama and current executive director of the Franciscan Action Network, said he was “disgusted that the Knights would allow the Shrine to St. John Paul II to be used for what is transparently a Trump reelection campaign event.”

“Pope St. John Paul II was an ardent foe of racism. In his last visit to the United States the saint begged our nation to eradicate racism from its heart. One cannot imagine a worse insult to John Paul II’s memory than to hold a Trump re-election event at the saint’s shrine,” he told The Post in a statement.

Pax Christi USA, a left-leaning Catholic group, was planning a vigil near the shrine “to express our dismay at this visit and to pray for our country and our church.”


It was unclear early Tuesday what Trump’s new executive order on religious freedom might include.

Trump has signed several orders around the issue of religious freedom that have been primarily symbolic but have the potential for changing how federal departments enforce existing law, said Charles Haynes, senior fellow for religious freedom at the Freedom Forum.

Early in his administration, Trump promised to abolish the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits clergy from endorsing politicians from the pulpit. But it would take an act of Congress to change the amendment. Instead, Trump issued an executive order on how his administration would enforce the amendment. In another case, he signed a rule offering protections for health-care workers who declined services that violate their religious beliefs, a move that concerned LGBTQ advocacy groups.

“Most of it is symbolic,” Haynes said of the executive orders. “It reiterates the law in some cases. There already are religious liberty protections, but he wants to underscore we’re upholding them or we’re implementing them.”

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