Despite Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory’s administrative record on handling sex abuse, the new leader of the Archdiocese of Washington has already stepped from the narrow path of avoiding partisan politics in the nation’s capital.
Fresh from leading the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Gregory agreed to answer impromptu questions from the laity. On August 13, he attended a Q&A session at Theology on Tap, a monthly young adult group that invites guests to lecture and discuss theology. Seated on a concert stage, the archbishop answered questions from young adults in the crowd who identified as Catholic.
Almost immediately, local Washington resident Steven Magnussen asked the archbishop about the ongoing allegations against Monsignor Walter Rossi, current rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., of predatory sexual behavior — specifically, why Rossi hasn’t been removed from active ministry until a formal investigation takes place. Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò recently confirmed the existence of such reports during his time as nuncio to the United States.
Gregory responded, “People can be proven guilty by innuendo or by common conversation. As far as I know, no one … has come forward and identified themselves and said — specifically — ‘I was harmed.’”
Archbishop Wilton Gregory at his installation Mass in Washington, D.C.
Credit: National Shrine via YouTube.
When the matter involving Fr. Matthew Riedlinger — a scandal involving explicit text messages to what Fr. Riedlinger thought was a 16-year-old boy — was brought up, the archbishop said, “That — that —that is — that’s news to me. … I suspect — I hope — that there is a forensic investigation. But in today’s environment, even a forensic investigation … will not satisfy the people. But I would like to see that. I would like to see a forensic investigation of those allegations.”
When pressed on why he refused to commit to conducting such an investigation himself, the archbishop clarified:
It seems to me that the investigation has to come from his bishop. He’s a priest of Scranton. The investigation has to begin with his bishop. That’s just how things are done. … Until that kind of investigation is done … I don’t know how we can make a decision[.]
As of August 14, the diocese of Scranton announced that Bishop Joseph Bambera will be launching a full forensic investigation into the Monsignor Rossi allegations. The diocese also noted that Bishop Bambera has spoken to Archbishop Gregory and will conduct the investigation with the cooperation of the Archdiocese of Washington.
Another local asked about whether a plan would be made to implement the encyclical Laudato Si’: “The climate crisis is, like, very scary.” Archbishop Gregory noted he would like to adopt a plan he developed in Atlanta in the Washington, D.C. archdiocese as well and that the Catholic University of America had asked the archbishop for a copy for implementation.
Archbishop Gregory then noted his work with Fr. James Martin, a priest known for dissenting from Catholic teaching on homosexuality and who supports the politicized LGBT movement. The archbishop admits that Fr. Martin has “caused a stir,” but he finds him a good voice to speak on the “gay and lesbian community” in the Church.
After clarifying he would not address current sex abuse investigations in his archdiocese, Archbishop Gregory noted he wants to be a “listener,” to hear the “anger and frustration,” and to be in the midst of people where healing takes place, arguing that “issuing edicts” does not bring healing. He went on:
If they called and said they were a victim of abuse, we should say, “I’m terribly terribly sorry,” then we should … report that abuse to the proper authorities, then we should respond by saying, “We stand behind you and with you with whatever resources we have.” In 36 years, I have met with dozens of victims, both in Chicago, Atlanta, and here in Washington. And the first thing I need to say is that I’m terribly sorry this happened to you, and let’s walk through this together[.] … I have to walk with you and accompany you.
A man named Rory addressed Gregory and described himself as a transgender Catholic. He asked, “What place do I have [in the Church] as a confirmed transgender Catholic?”
The archbishop responded:
You belong in the heart of this Church. And there is nothing you may do, may say, that will ever rip you from the heart of this Church. There is a lot that has been said to you, about you, behind your back that is painful, that is sinful. We have to find a way to talk to one another, to talk and to listen … so if you’re asking me where do you fit? You fit with the family.
A parishioner from St. Thomas the Apostle in Woodley Park asked: “Coming from the president, we hear a lot of anti-immigrant rhetoric these days and in my view this is against the teachings of Jesus that’s fueled shootings like El Paso[.] … What can we as Catholics and you as archbishop do to promote the teachings of the Church?”
After heartily agreeing with the parishioner’s assessment, the Archbishop went on:
In the past ten days I’ve issued a statement of trying to restore or trying to promote civil conversation — dialogue. Because I think, at uh, the level of hostility that is so rampant in our society, has engendered the hostile language and actions of violence against people[.] … [T]he bottom line … stop looking at the comment section. Because that’s where you see some of the most vitriolic and hateful things[.]
After a mention of the poll about lack of belief in the real presence of the Eucharist, Gregory was asked what Church leaders could do to stress the reality of the Real Presence.
Gregory emphasized that making Eucharistic Adoration available and mentioned how it takes lots of coordination to have perpetual adoration, but Gregory wants to see them set aside a couple hours a week for adoration. He believes that the loss of belief is fueled by poor catechesis, which happened over two generations.
Archbishop Gregory served a term as head of the USCCB during the 2002 abuse scandal, including the moderation of the Dallas Charter, and now works in an ecclesial group to develop reforms to increase episcopal accountability. Hopefully, the archbishop’s penchant for left-wing political rhetoric and lack of knowledge on the sex abuse crisis in the Archdiocese of Washington do not hinder his ability to ensure justice and guide the flock toward the heart of Christ. May the Sacred Heart of Jesus lead him to bring the souls in the archdiocese to Heaven.
A Florida native, M.M. received his B.A. in English and communications from Florida State University in 2015. He has worked in digital and full-service advertising agencies in South Florida and done freelance work in creative content production and strategy. He lives in Hyattsville, Maryland with his wife and daughter and delights in many pursuits, such as writing on cultural restoration through Catholic values and appreciating the true, good, and beautiful.