WASHINGTON — The Archbishop of Washington condemned racist and divisive rhetoric Thursday in response to controversial tweets by President Donald Trump about his critics in Congress.

“We must all take responsibility to reject language that ridicules, condemns, or vilifies another person because of their race, religion, gender, age, culture or ethnic background,” said Archbishop Wilton Gregory in an interview with the Catholic Standard, the archdiocesan newspaper, published August 1.

“Such discourse has no place on the lips of those who confess Christ or who claim to be civilized members of society,” he wrote.

President Donald Trump tweeted on July 14 that “‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen” who criticized him “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all),” and that the congresswomen should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

The tweet was seen as a reference to, among others, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who came to the U.S. as a Somali refugee. At a rally in North Carolina several days later, audience members chanted “Send her back!” in reference to Omar. Trump the next day said he “was not happy” with the chant and disagreed with it.

On July 27, Trump also tweeted that Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., an African-American member of Congress who represents much of Baltimore City, should look to his own district which he called a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.”

In his interview, Gregory said that there are times “when a pastor and a disciple of Jesus is called to speak out to defend the dignity of all God’s children.” 

“I fear that recent public comments by our President and others and the responses they have generated, have deepened divisions and diminished our national life,” said Gregory.

“Comments which dismiss, demean or demonize any of God’s children are destructive of the common good and a denial of our national pledge of ‘liberty and justice for all,’” the archbishop said.

Gregory was picked in April to succeed Cardinal Donald Wuerl as Archbishop of Washington. Wuerl had been serving as apostolic administrator of the archdiocese after his resignation, originally submitted in 2015, was accepted by Pope Francis last autumn.

Gregory, the former Archbishop of Atlanta, is the first African-American archbishop of Washington. He served as the head of the U.S. bishops’ conference from 2001 until 2004. He also chaired the U.S. bishops’ Special Task Force to Promote Peace in Our Communities in 2016, formed after incidents of racial tensions and violence drew national attention.

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, along with auxiliary bishop Dennis Madden, joined other religious leaders in The Ecumenical Leaders’ Group of Maryland in a joint letter to President Trump on July 29, calling his tweets a “slur” against the city and “horrible, demeaning and beneath the dignity of a political leader who should be encouraging us all to strive and work for a more civil, just and compassionate society.”

That letter noted the efforts of “people of faith” in Baltimore to fight drug addiction, unemployment, gun violence and other problems, and invited Trump “to come visit us in Baltimore; see us in action, and see how our communities survive and even thrive in the face of adversity.”

In 2018, the U.S. bishops approved a new letter on racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts.” Archbishop Gregory referenced the letter and appealed to Catholics in the archdiocese to reject racist and other harmful and demeaning rhetoric.

“As an American, a Christian, a Catholic pastor, I pray that our President, other national leaders and all Americans will do all we can to respect the dignity of all God’s children and nothing to further divide our nation. The growing plague of offense and disrespect in speech and actions must end,” he said.