Trump’s visit today to chapel is ‘baffling and reprehensible’, says Catholic archbishop

Justin Vallejo
Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump visit Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, DC: REUTERS

Donald Trump's visit to a Catholic church on Tuesday, after clearing out protesters ahead of a photo opportunity at an Episcopal church a day earlier, was "baffling and reprehensible", the Archbishop of Washington has said.

Mr Trump and the first lady, Melania Trump, visited the Saint John Paul II National Shrine on Tuesday after visiting St John's Church on Monday evening, which required protesters to be cleared out from Lafayette Square by armed riot police and tear gas.

Archbishop Wilton D Gregory, of the Archdiocese of Washington, said the Polish-born former Pope would not condone the use of tear gas for a "photo opportunity" in front of a church.

"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 is to defend the rights of all people even those with whom we might disagree," Mr Gregory said.

"Saint Pope John Paul II was an ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings."

"He 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."

During the visit, Mr Trump and the first lady placed a wreath on a statue of the Pope and posed for a photo.

Protesters gathered at the Catholic shrine on Tuesday after Mr Trump's visit to St John's Church a day earlier sparked widespread outrage over the use of force to clear Lafayette Square before the president was photographed holding a bible.

According to the White House, the president was visiting the shrine in Northeast Washington with wife Ms Trump, who is Roman Catholic, as part of a focus on international religious freedom.

Mr Trump was expected to sign an executive order on religious freedom in the Oval Office later on Tuesday afternoon.

The president has focused on religious voters in recent weeks with an executive order to reopen churches, synagogues and mosques amid the coronavirus lock-downs, and Tuesday's visit coincides with the anniversary of Pope John Paul II's visit in 1979 to his native Poland.