Transcript: Archbishop of Washington, Wilton Cardinal Gregory and Episcopal Bishop of Washington, the Ret. Reverend Mariann Budde on “Face the Nation,” March 31, 2024


The following is a transcript of an interview with Archbishop of Washington, Wilton Cardinal Gregory and Episcopal Bishop of Washington, the Ret. Reverend Mariann Budde that aired on March 31, 2024.


ED O’KEEFE: We’re joined now by the Archbishop of Washington, Wilton Cardinal Gregory, and the Episcopal Bishop of Washington, the Ret. Reverend Mariann Budde. Welcome to you both. Happy Easter.

THE RT. REV. MARIANN EDGAR BUDDE: Thank you.

HIS EMINENCE WILTON CARDINAL GREGORY: Happy Easter to you.

ED O’KEEFE: Part of why I was so eager to have a conversation with leaders like yourself is not so much to garner headlines as the show often does, but to seek some guidance, maybe, or some broader thoughts about the world that we’re in right now. I think both of you would probably agree, many would tell you, that it seems the world is on fire, and in so many different ways. And I guess, to begin, is- as broad a question as it is, how do you counsel your- your parishioners, or your flock, through times like these? Bishop Budde, you might as well begin.

REV. BUDDE: Thank you for the invitation. And for the question, I would say that we are a part of a broad Christian faith that encourages us to trust and to believe that fundamentally, our God is a God of love. And that God, the source of all that is good in the world, is with us. And that doesn’t negate or soften the reality of the struggles that we face, and certainly the difficulties of the world. And in fact, the witness of Jesus would say no, go to those places, be present, be open, and trust that the worst that happens isn’t the final word. And in the meantime, do what you can to be a force of love and goodness, wherever you find yourself, as a- as a starting point, anyway, and a source of consolation, both for yourselves and for those who you are blessed to meet and to serve.

CARD. GREGORY: I’d- I’d have to say that one of the things that I would- I try to remind our people of is that in- in spite of the difficulties that we are currently facing, and they are serious, and they are deep, but they are not the way that God intended his creation. In the book of Genesis, repeatedly, it says that God, after creating the heavens, the earth, he looked at it and he saw it was good. That’s the statement that we need to remind our people of, that God’s  creation is fundamentally good, flawed by sin, flawed by our hatred and- and violence, but still substantially a good creation.

ED O’KEEFE: And it’s- it’s gotta be hard for people to appreciate that or- or to be reminded of that, whether they’re dealing with something personal, or they’re seeing what’s happening in their communities or in the world. And certainly, there is plenty of good that goes on. But there’s- 

REV. BUDDE: It does take, as people have- have often said, it- it- it requires practice and discipline to focus on goodness, and to be a source of goodness. It’s- it’s not hard to be negative, it’s not hard to be even cynical about the world, that’s actually really easy to do. People of faith are called to a higher- are called to- to set our gaze higher, and to be- to be those who are not only looking for good, but actively trying to promote it. And I think maybe the one- the one addition that I would add to the Cardinal’s word is that Jesus doesn’t- Jesus’s example is like, I will go where the pain is, and I will be with you there. And I- it won’t be the final word. And that is never something that you would say to someone in the throes of pain. But it’s moving beyond words, when someone who has been through the darkest night can say that for themselves, and you witness that or you experience it yourself. And that’s one of the things, one of the great mysteries we celebrate this weekend, that the power of life is- is- is not overcome by death. And that that is fundamentally the message that we proclaim, try to live by.

CARD. GREGORY: Actually, the- the Easter mystery is dependent on the experience of Good Friday. That the- the reason that Easter becomes so pivotal is that it has overcome the- the hatred, the violence, that Jesus suffered, and- and rose above it. One of the things that we need to remind our- our people, and I’m sure Bishop Budde does this as well, is that there are moments of peace that all of us find. Not nearly enough. But those become the- the linchpins for hope. Whether it be in the family, whether it be with friends. And they’re not- they’re not frequent enough. But for each of us, there are some moments that point towards Easter. And- and that’s what we need to remind our people, that all is not lost in gloom, which is the celebration of Easter. That it’s recreation, that- that the Lord Jesus rose on the first day. It’s God refashioning His creation, but this time, not- not because it’s good, but he makes it perfect.

REV. BUDDE: We are both connected to the faith leaders in the Holy Land, the great patriarchs and- and religious leaders of the Holy Land. And they’ve just issued an extraordinary statement that has been read across the world. And if you can imagine the message that those leaders are proclaiming in the midst of such pain, and I was reading it this morning and struck by the combination of quiet faith, reassurance, and all the things that you just said. Unflinching call to- for peace, and for goodwill, and- and reminding us all to be in solidarity where there is greatest suffering. So it’s a both-and, the whole time you never look away. And by grace, you- you hang on to whatever bits of hope that you’re given, and that you strive to offer to others.

ED O’KEEFE: The other thing I was thinking on this week is that it’s been four years since essentially the world locked down in the midst of a pandemic. And that’s when the two of you really began to do a lot of your work together, you’re no strangers to each other. We’ve–

REV. BUDDE: We met the weekend before everything shut down.

CARD. GREGORY: We got in just under the wire.

ED O’KEEFE: And- and like many others were able to maintain your relationship, but from a distance, of course. You know, the pandemic is over officially, those that still suffer with health issues are- are enduring them, those that have lost are still suffering with those losses. I guess I wonder, how are we doing spiritually? In the four years since that began?

CARD. GREGORY: Well, I- I can speak for the Catholic Archdiocese. We just did our October count, or we- we got the results of our October count. And there’s an uptick in church attendance. Now, we didn’t begin with a robust assembly to be- to begin with, but we are watching the numbers return. The one cohort that I’m concerned about, two cohorts really, would be our elderly, who are still somewhat hesitant to come out. They were frightened because of the pandemic and rightfully so. But the outreach to our young adults. Our young people are not approaching organized religion with the same value structure that their parents and their grandparents had. So we’ve got to do more to draw them- we’ve got to market the church.

ED O’KEEFE: Right. And is it- you think they suffered for not being able to go to churches regularly there in those four years?

CARD. GREGORY: Well, certainly- certainly our- the seniors did. What we’ve discovered and I suspect Bishop Budde would be able to- to support this. Our young people are associated with the church and its social ministry outreach. We can get dozens, if not hundreds of young people, to engage in soup kitchen work, caring for the poor, supporting folks that are homebound. What we can’t get them to is, with any great success, is to the Lord’s altar in the same proportion.

ED OKEEFE: So to show up in the pews on Sunday morning or Saturday night?

CARD. GREGORY: Yes.

REV. BUDDE: I think I would answer the question in a slightly different way. I- to be honest, I don’t quite- I don’t know how we’re doing it as a country. I think that the- the time- we need more time to understand the full impact of the pandemics and everything that happened during those years, which were obviously compounding factors. But a couple of things are truly striking. I think the- the rise of mental health concerns across the country, regardless of religion or affiliation, just, and the sheer numbers. I was listening to someone who was working in the criminal justice system here in this- in the District saying that there’s a direct correlation with the rise of youth violence and crime that we’re seeing with- with the dislocation that young people experienced during the pandemic when there was just nothing for them.

ED OKEEFE: Right.

REV. BUDDE: So I think we still have, we need- we still have a lot of engagement with one another. I also- I also feel that perhaps some of the polarization that we experience as a country is in- how was exacerbated by that and so, to the degree that we can be instruments of healing and of- of friendship and goodwill across the country if you like Christians are at our best when we do that.

ED OKEEFE: You both anticipated where I wanted to go next, your concern about young people and your concern about division.

REV. BUDDE: Yeah.

ED OKEEFE: Let’s start with younger people, because the numbers are quite stark. Participation, or adherence to any kind of faith is at record lows and outnumbers those that are Protestant or Catholic, or some other denomination. I’d ask it this way, what is the value in being part of a regular worshiping community?

CARD. GREGORY: Well, the challenge to find the value of being a regular participant is exacerbated because of the- the world that our young people live with. The- the social media, the smartphones, the- the opportunity to engage the world in a small piece of electronic equipment. It doesn’t make for easy translation into a worshiping community that’s got it in assembly and choir and ritual and it brings people together. But that would be true and I suspect it is true in other areas of life.

REV. BUDDE: Yeah would say that- I would, I would flip the question. I think I think that the more interesting question for me is, for those of us who are part of the church, particularly elders, and I consider myself now, one of those- our responsibilities and so much, I mean, as much as I want the young people in my world to have the benefits of Christian community, I feel it’s incumbent upon us now, to be much more engaged and curious and an active wherever we are in authentic relationship with young people, that it’s not about what we want them to have or do for our sake, but that we are channels of love and grace and investment in them. And I’m not speaking of just the church now just all of us full court press, because if there was ever an opportunity for one generation to be of service to those coming up behind us, it’s now, and it’s incumbent upon us to do that in ways that are sacrificial and loving and curious about what we have, religiously or otherwise, that would be of support and value with them, and alongside them, and for their sake. And I think that would, for me, that would be the way that those of us who might worry about where the young people are, that might be a way for us to say no. Where are we in relationship to the young people that are coming up in our communities? And how can we- how can we love them? How can we be in authentic relationship and support for them?

CARD. GREGORY: I think one of the ways to, to capitalize on what Bishop Budde said, is the- to underscore the importance of ecumenical and interfaith dialogue.

ED OKEEFE: Yeah.

REV. BUDDE: It’s so fun, it’s so fun when it happens, it’s so great.

CARD. GREGORY: If we can model for the world, not just for the young people, but if we can model for all people, that it is possible to have friendships, relationships, and personal affection for people that you have differences with, That’s a- that’s a wonderful gesture of what we are really called, certainly as people of faith, to- to live and- and to engage in.

REV. BUDDE: And with the rising numbers of, as we see it all across the country, anti-semitism anti- Islamophobia. Just the concern- I mean, just- if the interfaith community, the leaders and the churches, and the mosques and the synagogues. If we can remember our friendships with one another and stand with one another in these times, we can do a lot, we can do a lot to bring that caustic energy down, which is- which is essential and yeah–

ED OKEEFE: –And you’re both vivid examples of how leaders with differences and similarities can work together and can promote better dialogue and- and try to take down the temperature.

REV. BUDDE: And to be explicit in our friendships with particularly now our Jewish and Muslim colleagues. Like this is the time for us to go the extra mile in friendship and in support whenever and however we can be. We can be good neighbors.

ED OKEEFE: Yeah. You mentioned earlier the divisions in this country and I think part of what contributes to that is this sense that religion and politics have become far more intertwined than in years past, and it’s driven by various forces. And I- I guess I wonder first how- how the two major candidates we have running for president invoke Christianity. I know this gets a little tricky, but we have one who is now selling Bibles that also have copies of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in them. But the other is the second Catholic president, who goes to church every Sunday, who observes the holy days of obligation and builds his schedule around them, but doesn’t talk at all publicly and is uncomfortable speaking about his own faith. I guess my first question is, are you comfortable with the level or with the- with the- with the role and the level of Christianity in our politics today?

CARD. GREGORY: I think one of the things that we’re experiencing is that faith and politics have always had a strange affiliation. But it’s switc hed now. Whereas faith used to be the- the- the voice, the moral voice that political people, whether they adhere to everything, they would turn to find that the moral compass with faith. I think, in some cases, it’s the political world that’s  beginning to set or claiming to set the moral voice. We’ve switched position. There is a- there is a great need, I believe, to place faith in its proper position, which is not necessarily antagonistic to the political arena but to seize the- the responsibility of being that guiding principle, that moral light for our people to turn to. And that has- that’s been turned upside down in so many cases, too many cases.

REV. BUDDE: I’m very concerned about the way the message of Christianity is being distorted in our country right now. I think it’s- it’s a- it’s a cause for deep concern. And, and how the teachings of the- of Christianity are being ignored by those who are claiming to speak as Christians in the public arena. And so I feel it’s a- it’s an abuse of the faith. And I have to be very careful, because I’m not perfect in my understanding of what it means a) to be a perfect Christian, I’m not a perfect Christian and I’m not a perfect American, but I think we are walking on very thin ice now. I would encourage anyone who buys a Bible to read the Bible, and in particular, to read the teachings of Jesus and then to set our policies, if we’re going to call ourselves a Christian nation, against the highest aspirations that Jesus calls us to. And that would make us a Christian nation, indeed, less than in uniformity. So I think we- we have some really in- and I’ve had some conversations about Bibles and presidents, so I’m going to leave it there. But I feel that this is- this is dangerous if it becomes- and I worry about those who associate Christianity with- with one expression that seems to be carrying the dominant tone of the of the- of the discussion publicly. So I’m going to do what I can in as friendly a way as possible, to engage this year, especially as a person of faith.

ED OKEEFE: What I can seek some clarity from both of you, the Bible belongs to everyone, right? That’s the general tenant–

CARD. GREGORY: –It belongs to two great–

REV. BUDDE: –It belongs–

CARD. GREGORY: –Two great- two great faith traditions, our Jewish brothers and sisters, and our Christian brothers and sisters. But the sacred writings of the Islamic world and of the Sikhs, they too have- have holy rights that belong to their tradition.

ED OKEEFE: Sure.

CARD. GREGORY: And we have to be very careful in describing our nation so that we don’t end up isolating people who are very much a part of this, this nation have made tremendous contributions, but because they belong to a religion that is not as well known perhaps, or sometimes put in- in conflict with other religious faith. That’s very dangerous.

REV. BUDDE: In a democracy, faith serves the common good, full stop. It serves the common good, it belongs in the public arena. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t belong there.

ED OKEEFE: But is the Bible meant to be sold for profit?

REV. BUDDE: No.

CARD. GREGORY: No.

ED OKEEFE: And is it meant to appear with the text of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution?

REV. BUDDE: No, no.

ED OKEEFE: And that’s part of your concern?

REV. BUDDE: That’s- that- that is part of my concern. And- and also- yeah, lots of concerns. But that I would say is the largest.

ED O’KEEFE: Cardinal, I appreciate that there’s a reluctance to speak about any one specific Catholic, especially one that you’ve worshiped with. But in the case of the President, do you get a sense that his regular attendance and adherence to the faith resonates with American Catholics?

CARDINAL GREGORY: I would say that he’s very sincere about his faith. But like a number of Catholics, he picks and chooses dimensions of the faith to highlight while ignoring or even contradicting other parts. That- there is a phrase that we have used in the past, a “cafeteria Catholic,” you choose that which is attractive, and dismiss that which is challenging-

BISHOP BUDDE: Or as Thomas Aquinas would say, you, you allow your conscience to guide you.

ED O’KEEFE: Is there- Is there something on the menu he’s not ordering? In your view? So to speak.

CARDINAL GREGORY: Well, I- I would say there are things, especially in terms of the life issues, there are things that he chooses to ignore, or he uses the- the current situation as a political pawn rather than saying, Look, my church believes this. I’m a good Catholic, I would like to believe this. Rather than to twist and turn some dimensions of the faith as a political advantage.

BISHOP BUDDE:  It’s also possible to be a practitioner of the faith as a public leader, and not require everyone that you lead in your country to-to be guided by all of the precepts of your faith. Right?

ED O’KEEFE:  And in my coverage of him, it seems–

BISHOP BUDDE: That’s how- 

ED O’KEEFE: That’s what he believes. 

BISHOP BUDDE: That’s what I would ensure.

ED O’KEEFE: Your concern is that he should be more explicit in his own personal belief–

CARDINAL GREGORY: Yes.

ED O’KEEFE: which is a personal opposition to abortion, but an understanding that as a public leader, and in a free society–

[cross talk]

BISHOP BUDDE:  He’s not to place that on everybody else. I’ll just say that I worship with the President when he comes to Washington National Cathedral, and I will say the one thing about him that I admire tremendously, there is not a funeral of a states person or a state person’s spouse, that he does not attend, stay through the entire service, and speak from the pulpit as a eulogy. And I find that example, I’ve never seen that before. And I find that example to be an expression of authentic faith. Doesn’t mean I agree with him on everything, nor am I saying anything other than that is he is a man of faith, and in a way that is lived, and in at times when up when people aren’t looking, you know, when people aren’t looking.

ED OKEEFE: I am curious, though, about whether his church going, his faith has resonated well with fellow Catholics, because my sense of it is it hasn’t necessarily. Is it supposed to, should IT matter? Is there- is there any Biden effect in the pews perhaps?

CARDINAL GREGORY: I would not put a lot of emphasis on that. He does attend church regularly with great devotion. But he also steps aside some of the hot button issues, or uses the hot button issues as a political tool. Which it’s not, it’s not the way, I think, we would want our faith to be- to be used. The issues of life begin at the very beginning. And they conclude at natural death. And you can’t, you can’t pick and choose. You’re either one who respects life in all of its dimensions. Or you have to step aside and say, I’m not pro life. I’m, you know, in one side of the equation, I feel that I can support this dimension of life. And others, I would step aside. My- my mentor, Cardinal Bernadin, for whom I was the auxiliary, introduced a very important schema called the consistent ethic of life, which received some very hostile reactions for- for- from people who wanted to focus only at the beginning moments of life. But at other times in, in- in human life, they would be reticent. And they- they feel that too- to have this spectrum of respect. disenfranchises that dimension of the life issues that they want to underscore? 

BISHOP BUDDE: Well, let’s- let’s be specific. I love the spectrum of life. I think you can be an adherent of the spectrum of life, and still respect a woman’s right to choose her in reproductive health, and including when- when to have an abortion in the early stages of pregnancy. So I’ll just say that, as a Christian, I believe that that’s possible, and still hold to the full spectrum of life. I think it’s fascinating that the- those who are the most- that in this Christian spectrum that the- to be consistent would have some very significant things to say about the way we treat our children, the way we- where we face poverty in this country, the way we treat people when they’re imprisoned, the way we treat people at the end of life, whether or not we feel that the state can take life, all of those issues, which I think Bernadin was very consistent about, where I might respectfully say there are other perspectives in the Christian- in the Christian world is that we might have some very interesting conversations about what to do in, what is best for a woman in the early stages of pregnancy or the issues that face women at that very tender time in life.

ED O’KEEFE:  I wanted to ask you – we know in the case of the president, he communicates occasionally, with the Holy Father, with the Pope. Do you get any sense that the Pope conveys your frustrations to the President?

CARD. GREGORY: I would not be at all surprised to have Pope Francis have had the opportunity to speak directly to the- to the president regarding that. One of the things that I think Pope Francis does, and does extraordinarily well, is that he engages people. He refers to- he encounters people, he doesn’t attack them. But he encounters them. And he invites them to respond to their better angels. This past week, Pope Francis met with two different fathers, one Palestinian and one Jewish, both of whom had lost a daughter during this conflict. And what was- what was absolutely marvelous was rather than turn against each other, they decided, with God’s grace, to say that this experience of pain that they both had suffered brought them together, rather than drove them apart.

REV. BUDDE: That’s a resurrection story right there. 

CARD. GREGORY:

Yes. 

REV. BUDDE:

Yeah.

ED O’KEEFE:  Real quick – he’s been struggling this week with some of his Holy Week obligations. How is the pope, best you know?

CARD. GREGORY: Well, I think for a man who’s 87, he has good days and bad days. And if I- if I’m given the grace to reach that age, I suspect I will have good days and bad days. So for example, last- on Palm Sunday, he didn’t give the homily which was expected and which was ordinary. But then, yesterday at the Chrism Mass, he came in and people were amazed. And earlier at the- at the audience, he walked onto the (inaudible.) So he’s- he’s exhibiting the health issues that a man of his age would have. What we do, unfortunately, is that we focus on one dimension: “Oh, he’s had a bad day.” Well, let me sign up for a bad day every once in a while because they do happen. 

ED O’KEEFE:  That’s fair. That’s fair. In our- in our final moments, when this airs you both will be spending time at your respective pulpits. Give us the 30 second synopsis of your sermon or homily on Easter Sunday.

REV. BUDDE:  I’m going to start by reminding people that sometimes we have to walk toward the light even when it’s still dark. Sometimes we have to believe in love, even when we don’t feel it. And that resurrection is a- is a process that starts small and moves toward its realization over time. And so if we don’t, quote unquote, “feel it” – doesn’t mean it’s not happening just like a seed that’s buried in the ground, or a life that is emerging in ways that we cannot yet see. But to have faith that life is life is real and can be trusted, and goodness will prevail.

CARD. GREGORY:  I’m going to focus on one of the questions that the women on their way to the tomb asked: “Who’s going to roll the stone away from?”  And what we have to do is to admit – what are the stones in our own lives that cover up the tomb? And how can we remove those? Who- who will remove the stones of disbelief so that we can come to the empty tomb and be resurrected with the Lord?

ED O’KEEFE:  Archbishop of Washington, Wilton Cardinal Gregory. Episcopal Bishop of Washington, the Right Reverend Marian Budde. 

REV. BUDDE: Thank you.

ED O’KEEFE: This was fantastic. Thank you so much for spending some time with us. Let’s do it again.

CARD. GREGORY: Thank you.

ED O’KEEFE: And Happy Easter.

CARD. GREGORY: Happy Easter to you.

REV. BUDDE: Thank you. Happy Easter to you. And to you.

CARD. GREGORY: Happy Easter, my good friend.

ED O’KEEFE:  And we’ll be right back.



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