Wilton Cardinal Gregory, Archbishop of Washington, D.C. Wilton Cardinal Gregory, Archbishop of Washington, D.C.  (Arcidiocesi di Washington)

Cardinal Gregory sees ‘Dignitas infinita’ as balanced, challenging document

US Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the Archbishop of Washington, D.C., speaks with Vatican News about human dignity, the National Eucharistic Revival, and the Synod on Synodality.

By Christopher Wells

Dignitas infinita (DI), the Vatican’s new Declaration on human dignity, is “probably the most comprehensive summary” of Church teaching on the topic “that could be issued at this time,” says Cardinal Wilton Gregory. 

The Archbishop of Washington, D.C., spoke with Vatican News during a visit to Rome for The Papal Foundation Board Meeting and the Rector’s Dinner at the Pontifical North American College, where he will receive the “Rector’s Award.”

Asked about the issues raised by DI, Cardinal Gregory acknowledged that the document touched on a number of “hot-button” issues and has sparked controversy on various sides. “But if you take the document as a whole,” he says, “it’s not a document about one specific issue beyond the fact that it treats human individuals, human people, as dignified in a way that is irreplaceable, that we never lose the dignity that God entrusts to us as He creates us.”

He notes that the Declaration is “humble in its context, but also very, very deeply rooted in Catholic moral and anthropological teachings.

A challenging document

At the same time, Cardinal Gregory says he thinks DI will be a “challenge” for people. “Everyone – maybe that’s an overstatement – people will probably find something that they agree wholeheartedly with, and something that they will have to think about.”

“And to be perfectly honest,” he adds, “I think that’s the sign of a successful document. It affirms that which you understand, accept, hold and cling to, but it also stretches you to consider other dimensions of our ecclesial life, of our social life, that may pose a challenge.”

Using the example of the death penalty, Cardinal Gregory notes that the Church as “continually strengthened its opposition to capital punishment,” moving towards the position that it is never really justified. “And for a number of people, that’s going to be an issue,” the Cardinal says, while emphasizing that DI insists that even people who have committed heinous crimes “have not lost the dignity that they had from the day of their conception.” 

Issues of critical importance

Cardinal Gregory went on to highlight a number of issues of critical importance to his own Archdiocese of Washington, notably the treatment of LGBTQ+ people and individuals concerned about their gender identity. 

“The document has to both recognize their human dignity, but also call them to accept and realize the fact that God has given them the dignity of an identity in their creation,” he says.

The Cardinal also calls attention to the “dignity of our migrant community.” Sometimes, he says, migrants “are being denigrated” by those who have “very strong feelings” about immigration, while at the same time, questions are raised about how to “admit and respect people who come to our borders looking for the same life advantages” that the ancestors of current residents sought when they came to America in the past. 

“So those issues are going to be of critical importance,” Cardinal Gregory says.

Dignitas infinita, he concludes, is “a very balanced document, and a very balanced way to look at the whole range of issues that call to mind [the question], ‘How can we better respect human dignity at every moment of its existence?'”

Cardinal Gregory on 'Dignitas infinita'

Who we are as a Eucharistic people

Asked about the ongoing National Eucharistic Revival in the United States, Cardinal Gregory says the US Bishops were motivated in part by an understanding that some of the Church’s teachings about the Eucharist “have not been passed on effectively to a new generation.”

At the same time, he insists, “we also have to look at the simple fact… that there are consequences to being a Eucharistic people. The consequences are, you become that which you receive. You act in the name of the Christ whose meal you have shared.”

Cardinal Gregory goes on to explain that “the Eucharistic Revival is certainly intended to bring a deeper awareness and an acceptance of the Church’s teaching, but it also has to focus on who we are a s a Eucharistic people. How are we to behave? When I dine with the Lord of life, what obligations flow from that encounter?”

Cardinal Gregory on the National Eucharistic Revival

Archdiocese blessed with honest dialogue

The US cardinal also spoke about the synodal process, begun three years ago and continuing this fall with the second session of the General Assembly of the Synod on Synodality.

“I'm very fortunate to be the pastor of I think a well organized synodal community,” says Cardinal Gregory, highlighting the faithful of the Archdiocese of Washington who have taken leadership in the local church. “I feel blessed that we’re on the right path as a local Church,” the Archbishop says, adding that synodality “has gotten a lot of attention and generated a lot of interested.”

Cardinal Gregory says his Archdiocese has been “blessed… with honest dialogue.”

Acknowledging that the synodality is not going to immediately solve every issue, the Cardinal explains that “listening and speaking in charity means that you can raise issues that are still unresolved, still controversial, but at the heart of it, you do it in a reverential way for the person who’s speaking,” adding that that was his experience in the first session of the Synod’s General Assembly.

Venerable Augustus Tolton
Venerable Augustus Tolton

Venerable Augustus Tolton

Drawing the interview to a close, Cardinal Wilton Gregory expresses his love for the city of Rome, pointing especially to the welcome the city afforded Augustus Tolton – the first African-American priest to serve openly in the United States. Tolton’s cause for canonization has been proceeding in Rome, with Pope Francis approving the decree recognizing his “heroic virtue” and granting him the title “Venerable.”

“I’m very proud that our Church, the Church here in Rome,” provided the education and the opportunity for Venerable Augustus to become a priest, the Cardinal says. “And it just made me very proud to be here in Rome, knowing that his work here prepared him to lay the foundation, to help lay the foundation for the black Catholic community in the United States, that Rome provided an opportunity that no other seminary in the United States accepted.”

Finally, asked if he will return to Rome for next year’s Jubilee, Cardinal Gregory responds with a smile, “God willing!”

Cardinal Gregory on the Synod

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11 April 2024, 12:26