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My wife and I are Roman Catholics. She is a “cradle Catholic”; I converted to Catholicism nearly forty years ago. During that time, we’ve seen the Church’s problems (the pedophilia scandals, doctrinal squabbles, etc.) however, we would never entertain the idea of leaving the faith. Most of our Catholic friends feel the same way.
Yesterday, I turned on the TV and saw a somewhat familiar face, the Archbishop of Washington DC, Wilton Gregory. We knew him from the Archdiocese of Atlanta where he had been the honcho. The chyron at the bottom of the screen was mentioning President Trump and his wife’s visit to The Saint John Paul II National Shrine and the Archbishop was putting in his two cents worth:
“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…”
Of course, we’re all familiar with the reactions of the politicians and the media. If Trump stays in the White House, he’s a coward and “hunkering down.” If he goes out, it’s merely for a “photo op.” However, Wilton is no mere politician and that’s where my problem comes from. But first, a little background.
If you’ve ever visited Atlanta; maybe the CNN Center or the Coca-Cola Museum or any of the other venues that Atlanta has to offer, you’ll see kitschy items from Gone With the Wind. Coffee cups, plates, dolls, clocks; you name it, all with the visage of Scarlett O’Hara, Rhett Butler, or both. You can buy a DVD of the movie (however, expect to pay double what you could get it for online). Whatever you buy, a certain percentage will be kicked back to the Margaret Mitchell Foundation and, while it doesn’t make as much money as say, the (Elvis) Presley Charitable Foundation, it still does quite nicely.
Up until 2011, the administrator of the Mitchell Foundation was her nephew, Joseph Mitchell. When he died in October of 2011, his will stipulated that $15 million from his estate, along with his house, was to be donated to the Archdiocese of Atlanta and went on to stress that the money was to be used for charitable causes. That’s when things really began to happen.
For those of you not familiar with Atlanta, there’s a section known as Buckhead and that’s where the old money lives (with double emphasis on “old” and “money”). It’s where the Coca-Cola money lives along with the Georgia-Pacific and Southern Bell money; no nouveau riche here.
In 2012, the Buckhead denizens noticed that the old Joseph Mitchell property was being torn down. Then, only days after the last truck from the demolition crew had left, construction began on the new dwelling. Since “inquiring minds” wanted to know who was building this structure, a trip was made to the city clerk’s office.
As it turned out, the dwelling was a $2.2 million, 6,400-foot mansion (complete with two dining rooms and a “safe room”) and the new occupants were to be (drum roll, please) Archbishop Wilton Gregory and six fellow priests. Saints Be Praised!
When word of this spread through the Archdiocese, the initial reaction was head-shaking puzzlement. Then, when it soaked in, the mood changed to outright anger. My wife and I were members of a 1,400-family parish in East Cobb County (northwest of Atlanta) and we did not encounter a single person that was not incensed by the brazen actions of the Archbishop.
The reaction of parish councils throughout the Archdiocese was unequivocal; Fine, keep your mansion. But don’t bother asking anyone in this Parish to contribute to the annual Bishop’s Relief Fund, ever. Reportedly, when word of the “Parish Councils’ Revolt” got back to Gregory, he was furious and sent two or three of his lackeys around to each parish to sternly warn them of the consequences of their mutiny. Instead, he found that, for the most part, the thinking of the parish priests was totally in line with the parish councils.
Finally, Gregory realized that he had no choice other than to back down. Intially, he issued a short, rather curt, note saying that “We took our eye off the ball.” Then it was changed to “I took my eye off the ball.” Later, he published a longer, more contrite message to the Archdiocese (probably written by one of his underlings). I don’t believe that there were many people in the Archdiocese who trusted him after that episode.
Gregory never did realize that the faithful of the Archdiocese had already been betrayed by so many in the priesthood; one of them another Archbishop of the Diocese who had to resign because he had fathered an illegitimate child. Yes, that’s correct. In the early ’90s, the Archbishop of Atlanta, Eugene Marino, impregnated a lay minister but before the paternity could be established, some other priests in the Archdiocese had to be tested since they admitted to sexual relations with the same lay minister (evidently, she was quite the penitent). Gregory’s action in blatantly disregarding the last wishes of a devout parishioner was just another in a long line of betrayals. And he just didn’t get it.
So, fast forward eight years or so and we see that, in Gregory’s case, a leopard doesn’t change its spots. There were a number of ways that Gregory could have turned the situation into a positive thing. He could have gotten off his keister and gone to greet the President. He could have asked the President and his wife into the Basilica for a few moments of silent prayer. (From the recent pictures in the news, he evidently has no problems with Nancy Pelosi participating in mass.) He could have even reminded the President that his sometimes fiery rhetoric should be tempered.
Instead, Gregory took the cheap way out. Hiding behind the facade of his “holy office,” he became just another Trump critic, no different than any of the Democratic establishment or Washington media. With just a few short sentences he became no better than the Pharisees and Herodians that we read about in the Bible.
When this pandemic lifts, my wife and I will be back at Sunday morning mass. As is our custom, we’ll go early in order to say the Rosary; and then silently reflect on what faces us, and our Nation. However, one person that we’ll be happy to ignore is Archbishop Wilton Gregory.Published in