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Catholic Archbishop Criticizes Trump's Visit To St. John Paul II Shrine

President Trump drew fresh criticism from religious leaders on Tuesday when he and first lady Melania Trump visited a shrine to St. John Paul II in Washington, D.C.

The trip to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine drew a sharp response from Washington Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, who said, "I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles."

The visit took place less than 24 hours after an Episcopal bishop said the president had used the Bible as a prop during a photo op outside the historic St. John's Church. Trump walked from the White House to the church on Monday after federal police and the National Guard used tear gas and other measures to force demonstrators out of an adjacent park.

"He used violent means to ask to be escorted across the park into the courtyard of the church," said Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.

Trump's outing to the shrine did not require the disruption of large protests against police brutality to clear a path. Instead, he traveled by motorcade.

"President Trump and the first lady laid a wreath and observed a moment of silence at the shrine," NPR's Ayesha Rascoe reports for our Newscast unit.

The Saint John Paul II National Shrine, which sits on the edge of the campus of Catholic University, was created by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic men's fraternal group. It was designated a national shrine by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2014.

In the first few hours after Trump's visit, video footage of the event appeared on his reelection campaign's Twitter feed; it did not initially appear on the White House's official media outlets.

Gregory said in a statement that Pope John Paul II was a defender of the dignity of human beings who "certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace."

Gregory, who became Washington's Catholic archbishop last year, is poised to become the first black cardinal from the United States.

In response to the criticism, the shrine said Trump's trip on Tuesday had been planned in advance.

"The White House originally scheduled this as an event for the president to sign an executive order on international religious freedom," the shrine said in a statement. "This was fitting given Saint John Paul II was a tireless advocate of religious liberty throughout his pontificate."

It concluded, "The Shrine welcomes all people to come and pray and learn about the legacy of Saint John Paul II."

The White House said Trump signed an executive order on advancing international religious freedom after he returned to the Oval Office, shortly after noon.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.