Washington archbishop criticizes Trump visit to Catholic shrine

Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory rebuked President TrumpDonald John Trump Trump responds to calls to tear down monuments with creation of 'National Garden' of statues Trump: Children are taught in school to 'hate their own country' Trump accuses those tearing down statues of wanting to 'overthrow the American Revolution' MORE’s visit to a Catholic shrine in D.C. on Tuesday, calling it “baffling and reprehensible” after the president moved to crack down on demonstrations in the district.

“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 around the time Trump arrived at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in the Brookland neighborhood on Tuesday morning.

Gregory said that Saint Pope John Paul II, for whom the shrine is named, “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.”

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Gregory, the first African American archbishop of Washington, was reacting to the events of the previous night, when protesters in Lafayette Square outside the White House were cleared with tear gas roughly 20 minutes before a citywide curfew at 7 p.m. meant to curb the at-times violent protests that have resulted in property destruction and clashes with law enforcement.

Trump delivered remarks in the Rose Garden Monday evening, saying he would deploy the military if states cannot contain violent protests, before walking to nearby St. John’s Church to pose for a photograph holding the Bible. The historic Episcopal church, just a block from the White House, was briefly lit on fire by demonstrators on Sunday evening.

Protests have broken out in cities across the country following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who was killed in police custody in Minneapolis last week after a white police officer knelt on his neck for roughly eight minutes.

Trump and first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpKimberly Guilfoyle tests positive for coronavirus Trump's July 4 weekend comes with COVID-19 backdrop GOP senator blasts Washington officials, claims DC would not be a 'well-rounded working-class state' MORE traveled by motorcade to visit the Catholic shrine on Tuesday morning to participate in a wreath laying ceremony. Max Nogier, deputy director of the shrine, also participated in the ceremony, which was attended by White House aides including counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayLincoln Project hits Trump over Russian bounties Obama said Trump's use of term 'kung flu' 'shocks and pisses me off': report New Lincoln Project ad slams Trump over deaths of 'Greatest Generation' members from COVID-19 MORE, economic adviser Larry KudlowLawrence (Larry) Alan KudlowMORE and press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.

Trump did not deliver remarks during the visit.

Several onlookers lined the route to the shrine, some of them holding signs that read “Black Lives Matter,” “Cops are Killers,” “You Suck” and “Dump Trump.” Across the street from the nearby Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, a crowd of likely hundreds of demonstrators gathered as the president’s motorcade came and went. 

Niall Stanage contributed.