Bishop Budde, 60, and Archbishop Gregory, 72, are both groundbreaking figures: In 2011, she became the first woman to lead the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, which includes the National Cathedral. Archbishop Gregory is the first African-American to hold his position, which he assumed just over a year ago. His appointment by Pope Francis to Washington, a prominent archdiocese, puts him in line to become the country’s first African-American cardinal. The Archdiocese of Washington did not respond to a request to interview him.
In a statement on Sunday, Archbishop Gregory decried the “horror of George Floyd’s death,” referring to the unarmed African-American man who was killed after a white police officer in Minneapolis knelt on his neck, the episode that has set off more than a week of protests across the United States. Archbishop Gregory said the incident “reveals the virus of racism among us once again even as we continue to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.”
The National Shrine is run by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization with ties to conservative Washington and to Mr. Trump’s orbit. Shortly after the president’s visit, the shrine released a statement on its Twitter account clarifying that the White House “originally scheduled this as an event for the president to sign an executive order on international religious freedom,” which he did later in the day.
In a statement, Brian Burch, the president of the conservative group CatholicVote, defended the president’s visit to the shrine as appropriate and criticized Archbishop Gregory. He called it “regrettable that the Archbishop of Washington chose this occasion to engage in a partisan attack on the president, especially when the country is in desperate need of healing and unity.”
And during an interview with Fox News on Tuesday, Kellyanne Conway, a senior White House adviser, bristled at criticism that the president was using religious sites as a prop.
Arguing that Mr. Trump has made religious liberty a priority of his presidency, she took aim at Bishop Budde personally, saying: “That is not, quote, her church, that is not, quote, her Bible,” Ms. Conway said. “We don’t look into other people’s hearts and souls and discern and judge what their faith is.”