.- Priests in the Archdiocese of Washington will demonstrate outside of the White House on Monday as a “prayerful protest” against hatred and institutional discrimination of all kinds.
The June 8 protest will be led by Fr. Cornelis Ejiogu, SSJ, pastor of St. Luke Church in Washington, DC.
“Our mission: to pray for a change of heart, an end to hatred and institutional discrimination of all kinds,” said an email sent to priests of the Archdiocese of Washington by Fr. Daniel B. Carson, the vicar general and moderator of the curia for the archdiocese on June 5.
“Please join the Catholic faithful in a public witness to pray for the soul of George Floyd and the soul of America,” said Carson. Floyd was a man who died in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department. The officers who arrested Floyd have been arrested and charged with homicide.
In the email, Carson invited priests to “join local Catholic bishops, clergy and lay faithful as we pray and move with Christian solidarity to lift our country up in prayer.”
“Let us gather to rededicate ourselves to the defense of all life and recommit ourselves to an anti-racism agenda,” Carson said.
Clergy were instructed in the email to “please wear (a) cassock, habit, or black clerical shirt,” and to bring a bottle of water, a mask, and a hat, as well as “appropriate signs/posters.”
The protest is set to start at 11 am at Lafayette Park, before moving to the White House at noon.
The email from the vicar general’s office inviting priests to attend the event included the reminder that “social distancing may be difficult, so do not forget your mask.”
Public Masses have not resumed in much of the archdiocese. Guidance on the archdiocesan website for the reopening of churches stresses that when and where public Masses resume, “social distancing will still be in place,” and “the six feet separation restriction will likely still be required.”
While some websites and social media posts have indicated that the archdiocese had ordered priests to attend the protest, the email – obtained by CNA – extended an invitation and contained no requirement to attend.
Several priests of the archdiocese told CNA they were surprised by the invitation, given the potentially volatile atmosphere that has accompanied some demonstrations outside the White House in the past week.
Two priests of the archdiocese, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern for ecclesiastical repercussions, told CNA that the event was “very unexpected,” and not consistent with diocesan guidelines regarding social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have been told for weeks that we cannot meet groups of the faithful, open our churches, serve in our parishes. Now they want us to take to the streets,” one priest told CNA.
A priest planning to attend the event expressed to CNA his concern that photos of priests in clerical garb outside the White House could be used for partisan purposes.
“I’ve been a priest here for more than a decade,” the priest told CNA. “I cannot remember ever being invited to wear a cassock to a public event organized by the chancery. It seems like they [just] want some good pictures.”
Neither the Archdiocese of Washington nor Fr. Ejiogu responded to CNA’s requests for comment on the event in time for publication.
Mass in the Archdiocese of DC has been restricted due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In Washington D.C., religious services are classed as “nonessential” in the District of Columbia and Mass is limited to a total of 10 people, including outdoor services. In an update to priests, circulated by the office of the vicar general last week, the archdiocese said it was “pursuing a potential waiver application to try and make progress towards reopening.”
Other dioceses faced with similar restrictions, including in Minnesota, Illinois, and Wisconsin, were able to reopen after religious groups threatened or filed lawsuits citing religious freedom protections.