Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Deterioration in Quality of Washington D.C. Shepherds

January 25th, 2021, Promulgated by Diane Harris

One might expect the quality of Washington D.C. prelates to be superior and above reproach since they have the Apostolic Nuncio nearby, effectively noticing and presumably reporting to the Vatican  on their failures as well as successes. And there should be a high expectation of leadership, knowledge and performance, given the influential opportunities in such a proximate relationship in the Capitol between Church and State. Most of all there should be a visible and personal commitment to holiness among the prelates. But the more recent track record in Washington is shaky, and belies the expectations.


From 1939 to 1947, the Washington Diocese was administered by the Irish-born Bishop of Baltimore, Archbishop Michael Joseph Curley. The first resident Cardinal Archbishop of Washington D.C. (second in the Washington line of bishops) was Patrick Aloysius O’Boyle, appointed in 1947 by Pope Pius XII. O’Boyle retired 25 years later, in 1973. His parents were Irish immigrants, his father a steelworker in Scranton. O’Boyle was baptized at St. Paul’s Church at two days old, where he returned on May 22, 1921 to celebrate his first Mass. (Note, the Spanish flu, also known as the 1918 flu pandemic, is dated from February 1918 to April 1920. Hardest hit was Philadelphia.) It was not an easy road to his vocation and he certainly was no ‘silver spoon’ appointee. His father died when Patrick was 10 years old, and he became a paperboy to help support his mother. At 14, he dropped out of school to begin full time work, but his biographical records show that a local priest intervened and gave orders that he should attend St. Thomas College, where the road to his priesthood began.

The Catholic University of America is the only national university operated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). During my five years in Washington D.C. all I knew of Archbishop O’Boyle was that he wielded a lot of power and influence, that he was highly respected, and perceived as a larger-than-life figure in his involvement and responsibilities toward CUA, where he had the final say in all matters of oversight, and seemed not afraid to exercise that right and responsibility. 

The Season of Vatican II

But Vatican II was already shaking the trees, and dissidents were grabbing their opportunities. It was a time of great upheaval, with a description of O’Boyle that then seemed actually to be possible: “theologically conservative but socially progressive.” Thus, it is no surprise that he would consecrate the U.S. to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and stand forth in full support of Humanae Vitae, but also be against racism.

O’Boyle integrated the Washington Catholic Schools six years before the Supreme Court ruled that segregation was unconstitutional. Quoting Archbishop O’Boyle: “There is in every man a priceless dignity which is your heritage. From this dignity flow the rights of man, and the duty in justice that all must respect and honor these rights…” In his remarks, he urged Congress to pass the Civil Rights bill and those present at his speech to “tell our Representatives our conviction that such a law is a moral obligation.” 

O’Boyle’s prominence was also brought to focus by his being prelate of the Washington D.C. diocese during the Kennedy years. On Nov. 22, 1963, the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church assembled for the second session of Vatican II, and to vote on the final draft of the “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” (“Sacrosanctum Concilium”). A few hours later President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. O’Boyle hurried back upon receiving the news, in time to be in the sanctuary at St. Matthew’s Cathedral for the funeral Mass celebrated by Cardinal Cushing of Boston.

That first resident prelate of Washington, D.C. left an impressive track record which is hard to match. The successor of Cardinal O’Boyle and third bishop of Washington was Abp. William Baum in 1973, followed by Archbishop James Hickey in 1980. In 2001, the now laicized for sexual abuse, Mr. Theodore McCarrick, was installed, succeeding Cardinal Hickey and, as they say, “all hell broke loose.”  McCarrick was replaced by then Bishop Donald Wuerl in 2006, who resigned as Archbishop of Washington in 2018 in the wake of revelations about his poor handling of incidents of sexual abuse in Pittsburgh.

Most recently, Pope Francis named the 7th Archbishop of Washington, Abp. Wilton Gregory, whom he relatively quickly elevated to Cardinal. It is unfortunate that so much attention and back patting is involved over the naming of a man of color to the Diocese of Washington, rather than the need for him to be a man capable of changing tension into peace, and truth into action, like Cardinal Sarah. Rather, Gregory roiled the waters. He had already shown some poor judgment related to the luxurious residence he inhabited in Atlanta, having to make either a humble or humiliating apology, depending on one’s opinion. More on lavish bishop residences can be found here:

What does it take to earn a red hat?

Abp. Gregory became ensconced in the Washington Diocese on May 21, 2019 in the midst of Pope Francis’ frequent denigrations of the U.S. President who was running for re-election. Instead of being a man of olive branches and hope, regardless of color, Gregory publicly denounced President Trump’s and his wife’s paying a visit of thanksgiving to the Pope John Paul II Institute. Gregory further issued an order to priests of his diocese to join demonstrations against the President. Pope Francis had made his own antipathy obvious against the most pro-life President the U.S. has ever seen, and Gregory seemed by his actions to be seeking a papal ‘atta-boy’ with relatively childish and demeaning servility to please Pope Francis, thus ham-stringing whatever credibility the episcopate might have had for statesman-like influence. What a long way is the fall from the days of Cardinal O’Boyle! The Diocese of Washington has continued down the slippery slope since 2001. It is not a matter of judging; rather, it is a matter of testing the fruit, by which all men should want to be known.

Is it any wonder that the city which is home to the Federal government is in such a mess with this kind of church hierarchy entrenched for the last 20 years? And Gregory has gone beyond his predecessors who tried to keep their sins hidden. He has gone beyond their selling out Catholics to China, beyond unaccounted millions collected from the pews under the guise of CRS, beyond abuse of seminarians, beyond selling the priesthood out to sexual deviation and impurity, beyond even the killing fields of abortion. As Archbishop in charge of the flock of Washington D.C., he has touted his willingness to be Biden’s accomplice not just in sinning against the vulnerable, but against God Himself, by willingly dropping the Holy Eucharist into the hands of a man sworn to kill the newborn and the unborn. In Gregory’s scandalous insistence that he will communicate Biden, he affirms his sacrilegious intent against the Body of Christ and all Church Teaching, demonstrating his allegiance to Biden’s persistent and unrepentant sins against the Holy Eucharist.

And, finally, I mourn for and pray for The Catholic University of America, where Cardinal Gregory has now assumed the role of Chancellor. 


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