Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, who Pope Francis appointed in April as head of the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, told a transgender man at a gathering of young Catholics last month, “You belong to the heart of this church.”
Gregory gave what LGBT Catholics consider a highly supportive and understanding response to a question asked by a self-identified transgender man during an Aug. 13 archdiocesan-sponsored Theology on Tap event held at a Dupont Circle nightclub and bar called Public Bar Live.
A spokesperson for the Archdiocese told the Washington Blade the archdiocese regularly hosts these events in D.C. bars and restaurants as a means of reaching out to and engaging young professionals “around topics of faith and life.”
The spokesperson, Paula Gwynn Grant, sent the Blade a link to a video of Gregory’s appearance at the Aug. 13 event, which includes his interaction with Rory, who is a member of the local LGBT Catholic group Dignity Washington.
“Hi, my name is Rory and I worship with Dignity Washington,” Rory is heard saying off camera to Gregory. “I’m a transgender Catholic and first I’d like to say welcome. We’re really happy that you’re here,” he said. “We’d love to invite you to mass,” Rory continued, drawing loud applause from the audience.
“My question is what place do I as a confirmed transgender Catholic and what place do my queer friends have here in this archdiocese?” Rory asked.
“You belong to the heart of this church,” Gregory replied. “There is nothing that you may do, may say, that will ever rip you from the heart of this church,” Gregory continued.
“There is a lot that has been said to you, about you, behind your back that is painful and is sinful,” he said. “We have to find a way to talk to one another and to talk to one another not just from one perspective, but to talk and to listen to one another,” Gregory told Rory.
“I think that’s the way that Jesus ministered. He engaged people, he took them to where they were at, and he invited them to go deeper, closer to God,” said Gregory. “So if you’re asking me where do you fit, you fit in the family.”
Gregory’s remarks to Rory came a little over three months after he was installed on May 21 as the first African-American Archbishop of Washington. Knowledgeable observers of the Vatican’s practice of appointing leaders of the Archdiocese of Washington say Archbishops of Washington traditionally have been elevated to the position of cardinal. Many believe Gregory is on the path to become the first African-American cardinal in the United States.
LGBT Catholics consider that prospect remarkable given Gregory’s reputation of support for the LGBT community and LGBT Catholics during his previous assignment as Archbishop of Atlanta, where he served for 14 years before coming to D.C.
Among other things, while in Atlanta Gregory met with and had cordial relations with members of the group Fortunate Families, whose member are Catholic parents of LGBT people.
In response to another questioner at the Aug. 13 Theology on Tap gathering in Dupont Circle, Gregory mentioned the Fortunate Families group.
“While I was bishop of Atlanta, I was invited into a conversation with a group of parents who had sons and daughters who were gay and lesbian,” he told the gathering. “They invited me, and I’m grateful that they did, to be in dialogue with them, to have me tell them first of all that they had to love their children and that the church had to love their children,” he said.
“That group was called Fortunate Families. It’s a loosely knit national group. I was happy to do that,” he said.
“The Dignity Washington community is very pleased and excited to hear the dialogue that occurred between one of our young, transgender Catholics and Archbishop Gregory,” said Dignity Washington President Daniel Barutta.
“The fact that he is reaching out to the next generation of Catholic young adults who very well may become future church leaders is very encouraging,” Barutta said. “His words indicate openness to further dialogue and hopefully a potential visit with our community at St. Margaret’s Church, where we have mass every Sunday at 6 p.m.”
Barutta noted that Dignity Washington has been seeking a visit from the leader of the Archdiocese of Washington to its weekly Sunday mass since the group’s founding in the 1970s. In his supportive comments at the Theology on Tap gathering Gregory didn’t directly respond to Rory’s invitation to visit Dignity Washington.
Archdiocese spokesperson Grant didn’t immediately respond to a follow-up question by the Blade submitted by email asking whether Gregory might be considering the invitation to visit Dignity Washington during its Sunday mass.
“It took a lot of courage for our transgender member to approach the Archbishop,” Barutta told the Blade in a statement. “It also took the Archbishop a lot of courage to respond in such a pastoral, caring manner that he must have known would have negative repercussions among the more conservative element of the Roman Catholic Church,” said Barutta. “A very great moment indeed – the Holy Spirit does work in wondrous ways!”
Archbishop Wilton Gregory’s response to the question by the transgender Catholic can be seen and heard beginning at 30:46 minutes into a full Facebook Live video from the Aug. 13 event.