A Cuban-born Episcopal priest popular with the family of President Obama as well as that of former president George W. Bush has been picked to deliver the inaugural benediction, according to an official close to the inaugural committee. The selection came nearly a week after anti-gay remarks from the 1990s sank the White House’s first choice.
The Rev. Luis León is rector, or priest, at St. John’s Church, across Lafayette Square from the White House. The first family has attended services at St. John’s several times, and the Bush family regularly appeared there as well.
The choice of a pastor from a parish called “the church of presidents” is likely to be uncontroversial, particularly compared with the two-day tenure of Atlanta evangelical megapastor Louie Giglio. The choice of León was first reported by CNN.
Giglio, who leads a thousands-strong community of college-aged evangelicals called the Passion Movement, impressed the White House with his anti-human-trafficking advocacy but apparently caught some connected with the inauguration off guard with his belief that gay and lesbian relationships are immoral and un-Christian.
Inaugural officials announced Jan. 8 that Giglio would deliver the benediction, or closing prayer, but by Thursday, he had stepped down. Inaugural officials said the White House was unaware of Giglio’s 1990 sermon and wanted to pick someone whose views were more in line with the president’s.
The controversy set off religious conservatives, with whom the president has often tried to find common cause, who felt betrayed. Religious liberals and gay advocates felt Giglio never deserved to be praying over a president who has become a powerful advocate for equality.
León came to St. John’s in 1995 after serving as rector of Trinity Church in Wilmington, Del., and St. Paul’s Church in Paterson, N.J. He teaches courses around the country in building up parishes and is a regular speaker at commencements.
He was born in Cuba and became an Episcopalian there but left on the Operation Peter Pan flights of children, in 1961, when he was 12.
He grew up in Florida and graduated from the University of the South in 1971 and the Virginia Theological Seminary in 1977. He was a founding member of the Washington Interfaith Network and the Wilmington Interfaith Network.