Did Archbishop Wilton Know of Trump’s Photo Op Weeks in Advance? Was His Statement a Sham?

Did Archbishop Wilton Know of Trump’s Photo Op Weeks in Advance? Was His Statement a Sham? June 3, 2020


Archbishop Wilton Gregory, Source, Wikimedia Commons

I got my facts upside down in the post I wrote about Archbishop Wilton Gregory’s statement questioning Trump’s photo op at the St Pope John Paul II shrine in Washington, DC.

I didn’t understand that this event had actually been scheduled several weeks in advance. I also did not understand that the President was going to make a formal announcement of an executive order concerning religious freedom. 

Once I learned that President Trump’s visit had been scheduled well in advance of the day, I re-thought my assessment of Archbishop Gregory’s statement. I can’t say for certain that Archbishop Gregory knew that the visit was scheduled in advance, but I think it’s a good assumption that he did. 

A formal visit from the President of the United States for the purpose of announcing an executive order usually involves quite a bit of advance planning. That planning would almost certainly involve the Archbishop’s office. I can’t imagine a government agency that was coordinating this kind of thing not contacting the Archbishop’s office and coordinating it through them. 

I also don’t see President Donald Trump doing something like this without the Archbishop fawning over him and thanking him and otherwise puffing him up. Trump and modesty don’t match up. Neither does Trump doing anything for nothing. When he gives, he gets.

In this case, he’s giving an executive order  — and quite a few other things which I may discuss in later posts. What he’s getting is the Catholic vote in the upcoming election. Trump gives, and the bishops deliver what has been an intractable 24% of the electorate. That is the equation. 

It would unbalance that equation if Archbishop Gregory had not at least been notified of this event. He was probably expected to show up and metaphorically kiss Trump’s ring when it came down. Various bishops have been kissing Trump’s ring for a while now. Many internet Catholic priests, including some very prominent personages, have been kissing other things as well. 

So, as you can see, the scenario I thought I was writing about didn’t exist anywhere except in my own mistaken little brain. I thought Trump had just decided to do another church photo op. But, no. Not a bit of it. I thought Archbishop Gregory was surprised and outraged by this and made a courageous statement against it. Again, not so.

The truth of it is that this was a planned event that the Archbishop probably knew of well in advance. What probably surprised him is that the venal monster he’s backing had decided to exhibit some of his monstrousness the day before and a woman bishop of another denomination actually did stand up and call him out on it in no uncertain terms.

I doubt if the death of George Floyd and the subsequent outrage from all right-thinking Americans was on the Archbishop’s calendar alongside this Trump event. I also doubt that the near unanimous and absolute outrage of the entire American black community was on his radar, either.

What to do?

Not, certainly, cancel the event. Trump is far too crazy and vengeful to mess with that way.

The better part, the easy part, would be to issue a statement that seems to condemn the event and let it go forward while the Archbishop absents himself. That’s a way for the Archbishop to be what everybody wants him to be and come out a winner.

The fact that Archbishop Gregory almost certainly knew of this event far in advance and then pretended he was “baffled” by it puts his statement in a new, far less flattering, light. I had thought he was doing something brave and taking a stand for human rights, the Constitution and the Church’s moral and political independence. A lot of people thought that.

We’ve become so accustomed to our bishops bending over for Trump that it was electrifying to all of us. But, we were wrong. We were also wronged. But that is another story.

It appears now that what the Archbishop was probably doing was pandering to the outraged crowds with one face while he turned an accepting and appropriately obedient face toward the man with power. If he knew weeks in advance that President Trump was going to the shrine, it hardly seems likely that he was also “baffled” by the idea and found the event “reprehensible” when it happened.

It seems far more likely to me that the Archbishop was playing us. 

All those things I wrote in that earlier post about my personal sense of loss and deep confusion because of the Church’s turn away from Christ and toward pragmatic politicking are still true. They came from deep inside me. 

I’m not alone. A lot of Christians in this country are hurting because of this political disconnect between Jesus Christ and our churches. 

I hope that our bishops will re-evaluate their sudden fealty to cold-hearted political pragmatism. I pray that they will evaluate their own actions in light of the Gospels and the serious work they have in front of them of proclaiming Christ with an authenticity that converts lost people and brings them to the foot of the cross.

If they do that, the Holy Spirit will lead the laity in ways that take care of all these other things. It takes faith to know that, but it is true. The leaven of the indwelling Holy Spirit changes what people want to do and leads them in the pathways of the Light.

But if the bishops persist in selling out to political power, exchanging their inheritance as successors to the Apostles for the porridge of transitory political largesse, they will drive people away from the Church. If the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church, then authentic and uncompromising followership of Christ is its fruit. This is what the bishops need to model for us.

Right wing, Trumpian christianity has become a christianity without Christ. It ignores and obviates the Gospels, regards the Cross as a decoration and bows down before the golden calf of political power and money.

Our bishops are clearly tempted beyond their own ability to resist by the easy solutions of raw power that colluding with a corrupt politician offers. But there is no Jesus in that and the “solutions” are delusions based on the eternal lie that if you bite into the apple, you will not die.

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