As Archbishop Faces Racist and Homophobic Attack, U.S. Bishops Remain Silent

Archbishop Wilton Gregory

Why aren’t U.S. bishops speaking out against a racist and homophobic verbal attack against one of their own?

Religion News Service reported this week that right wing media outlet Church Militant attacked Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C. with anti-gay, racist slurs. More specifically, in a video the outlet’s founder, Michael Voris, asserted that Gregory was part of a “gay cabal and an “accused homosexual.” Voris referred to the archbishop as an “African Queen.” The attack comes shortly after Gregory sharply condemned Donald Trump’s visit to Washington’s St. John Paul II Shrine last week, which the archbishop called “baffling and reprehensible.”

Against an attack even on one of their own, the hierarchy has remained largely silent, and is totally silent when it comes to the homophobic aspect of Church Militant’s attack. The Archdiocese of Detroit tweeted a brief statement condemning “an organization in SE Mich.” for “racist and derogatory language” against Gregory, clarifying that “the organization in question is not affiliated with or endorsed by the Archdiocese of Detroit.” Two further tweets quoted Archbishop Allen Vigneron, who expressed “hope that the faithful will turn from this and all other acts or attitudes which deny the inherent dignity shared by all people.” He acknowledged the racist aspect of Church Militant’s attack, but was mum on the anti-gay aspect. Bishop Rick Stika of Knoxville also sent a tweet acknowledging the racism of the video. [Update: The Archdiocese of Detroit issued a second statement that specifically named Church Militant and said “unequivocally condemns the offensive language.”]

It is worth noting, as others have, that this is the same archdiocese which just this spring expelled LGBTQ groups Dignity/Detroit and Fortunate Families from church property, even barring priests from providing pastoral support to the Dignity chapter. These expulsions, implemented by Auxiliary Bishop Gerard Battersby, came without any dialogue and, in the case of Dignity/Detroit, a condemnatory letter that claimed the chapter’s lived faith was “incompatible with the path of sanctification on which Christ bids his Church to travel.” Yet, for years and despite repeated cries for the archdiocese to act, Vigneron has done little to condemn or curtail Church Militant’s damaging antics.

Yesterday marked the fourth anniversary of the Pulse LGBTQ nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida, when forty-nine people were killed and dozens more injured. What was striking then is how silent most bishops were and, but for a few exceptions, those bishops who did speak out could not bring themselves to name the victims as targeted specifically for being LGBTQ. Perhaps it was too much to expect a U.S. episcopate that collectively spent two decades condemning LGBTQ people and opposing their civil rights to stand with the LGBTQ community, even in the wake of mass death. But now, is it too much for these bishops to even defend one of their own, by explicitly naming the homophobia that is part of the attacks against Gregory?

As usual, it is left to non-hierarchical Catholics to fill the void the bishops’ collective silence leaves. RNS reported on some of the necessary condemnations:

“The Church Militant video triggered swift backlash from prominent Catholic scholar Anthea Butler, who serves as associate professor of religious studies and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

“She called the video racist.

“‘As a black Catholic, I’m appalled,’ Butler told Religion News Service. ‘At a time of racial division in this country, Church Militant produced this racist diatribe in the hopes of creating more fissures within the church. … They are willing to step over the bodies of black people in order to promote their filth.’

“She added: ‘For them to do this, in this particular time of pain in our country, is a slap in the face to every black Catholic in America.'”

Butler called on Archbishop Vigneron to condemn the video and Church Militant explicitly. To not do so, she claimed, “is basically saying to the black Catholics of Detroit that they don’t matter.”

Jamie Manson, a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter and noted queer Catholic advocate, tweeted that Voris’ “hate speech is an ugly collision of racism and homophobia.” The attack shows, once again, why LGBTQ equality and racial justice work must intersect, she wrote.

Fr. James Martin, SJ, also tweeted about the video:

“The day Jesus tells us not to call people names (Mt 5:22) and as we confront racism @Church_Militant releases video calling Archbishop Gregory an ‘African Queen.’ Church Militant is in Detroit. Will Archbishop Vigneron or anyone in the @USCCB condemn such #racist hate speech?”

Gregory has been an increasingly positive voice for LGBTQ equality. Last year, he told a transgender Catholic that “you belong to the heart of this church.” He took several positive steps while archbishop in Atlanta, too. He invited Fr. James Martin, SJ, to speak despite some criticism, and has acknowledged that the Church needed to improve its pastoral care for LGBTQ persons. After marriage equality was legalized in the U.S., he called for all sides to be respectful and civil. Gregory has suggested the work of the 1960s civil rights movement continues today and includes efforts for lesbian and gay protections. In 2016, Gregory supported the Georgia governor’s veto of a “license to discriminate” bill that would have expanded anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

There can be no toleration of the homophobia and the white supremacy expressed by the “African Queen” moniker, and as Jamie Manson and many others point out, the fight against these oppressions intersects and so our response must itself be intersectional. Too few bishops can bring themselves to say Black Lives Matter or that LGBTQ people must be respected. But where the bishops are silent, the rest of the faithful need to be outspoken. Catholics must make clear to our co-religionists that such hate will be actively resisted.

If you would like to send a respectful note of support to Archbishop Gregory, you can email it to communications@adw.org. You can also leave positive comments on the Archdiocese of Washington’s social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram).

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 13, 2020

9 replies
  1. Barry Blackburn
    Barry Blackburn says:

    Dear Robert Shine, thank you for this informative overview. The anniversary of the tragic Pulse massacre and vicious attack on Archbishop Gregory means that more than ever our LGBTQ voices need to be a leaven for Justice and multiculturalism. As a Canadian more than ever I believe our collective voices, for Multiculturalism and Justice must be heard to resist a growing wave of hate. We all must be this leaven if all are to rise in God’s Reign-BUT we need to be heard! BRAVO Archbishop Gregory!

    Reply
  2. Thomas Ellison
    Thomas Ellison says:

    How monstrously sad that the “Church Militant” should hurl these insults. They may as well call themselves the Church In Brownshirts. It seems some ‘fraternal’ group or another always forms within Catholicism to further Catholic ideals and then, eventually, reveal themselves as angry, hateful and farther from Catholicism than they realize. Archbishop Gregory criticized the president after the St.John photo op. Maybe that was more than they could allow.

    Reply
  3. Don Siegal
    Don Siegal says:

    The following is my letter of thanks and support to Archbishop Gregory

    Your Excellency,

    I write this letter as a gay Catholic man. Thank you for calling out the inappropriate “Christian” behavior of President Trump at the Shrine of St. John Paul II. I’m deeply grieved by the racial and homophobic verbal abuse that is being directed toward your remarks by the alt-right Church Militant.

    I am also wise enough to know the appropriate response to such blatant lies is no response at all. My answer is one of Jesus’ Beatitudes. Let us pray this Beatitude together.

    “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (NRSV)

    You have a connection with my family in southern Illinois when you were the bishop of Belleville IL. For that reason, I have followed your career.

    Yours in Christ

    Reply
    • Barry Blackburn
      Barry Blackburn says:

      Don what a thoughtful, appropriate and truthful letter to Archbishop Gregory. You speak for all of us. Thank you!

      Reply
  4. Gerald Montroy
    Gerald Montroy says:

    As a young priest doing social work among the poor in Cairo, Illinois during the late 1960s, I was invited to a Knights of Columbus meeting. I looked around and then asked where were the Black K of C members. I was told by the white Catholics present that were not allowed. I walked out and never returned to a K of C meeting. Thank you Archbishop Gregory for what you have said. I now admire you more.

    Reply
  5. Bern
    Bern says:

    As a fellow alumnus of Notre Dame (’65) I’m disgusted with and ashamed of Michael Voris and Christine Niles.

    Reply
  6. Claudia Sorrentino
    Claudia Sorrentino says:

    I think you celebrated a beautiful Easter mass I watched on EWTN. The only consolation for the hurtful flak you’re suffering is that the same thing happened to Our Lord.

    Reply
  7. Barbara G Stanbridge
    Barbara G Stanbridge says:

    Dignity/ Detroit has not been expelled from “church property”. The land is not owned by the diocese. It is the former college of the IHM Sisters and is now owned by a conservancy who are honoring their contract with Dignity. The real problem is the Bishop has forbidden priests to offer Mass for Dignity. And the Detroit bishops will not recognize Dignity’s mission in favor of some group that denies the validity of gay sexuality.

    Reply

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