May 22, 2005

Part 3: Racism and The Catholic Church

The Black Catholic Bishops Speak Out

In 1984 the Black Catholic Bishops in the United States issued a joint statement, ‘What We Have Seen and Heard:’ A Pastoral Letter on Evangelization From the Black Bishops of the United States. In this letter address to all members of the U.S. Catholic community, these Bishops reminded Catholics of the enduring presence of the African-American Catholic community. They noted that the African American Catholics community has come of age and matured in spite of the obstacles of racism that wedded itself to the practice of Catholicism in the United States. It was their hope that through their letter they could encourage the Catholic Church in the United States to open itself to the authentic and original gifts and contributions of African American Catholic spirituality.

The letter notes that in spite of the call for racial reconciliation and justice by the U.S. Catholic Bishops, "Blacks and other minorities still remain absent from many aspects of Catholic life and are only meagerly represented on decision-making level." The Black Bishops that despite the calls from the U.S. Catholic Bishops for an examination of conscience the Catholic Church in the U.S. still had significant strides to make:

These words have not had the full impact on the American Church that was originally hoped. Blacks and other minorities still remain absent from many aspects of Catholic life and are only meagerly represented on the decision-making level . . . This racism, at once subtle and masked, still festers within our Church as within our society. It is this racism that in our minds remains the major impediment to evangelization within our community. Some little progress has been made , but success is not yet attained. The stain of racism on the American Church continues to be a source of pain and disappointment to all, both black and white . . . This stain of racism, which is so alien to the Spirit of Christ, is a scandal to many, but for us it must be the opportunity to work for the Church’s renewal as part of our task of evangelization.

The Black Bishops highlight the fact that racism is alien "to the Spirit of Christ" and can have no place in the Church’s life. Thus if the Church is to be faithful to its spirit and mission it must actively seek to address and eradicate the "stain of racism" from its midst. These Bishops argued that racism remains an obstacle to evangelization, thus crippling the heart of Christian mission. The Black Bishops concluded with an appeal to the U.S. Catholic Church, especially the Black Catholics, to not allow racism to deprive the Church "of the rich gifts that God has granted us."

In 2000 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on African American Catholics published a document entitled, Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself: U.S. Catholic Bishops Speak Against Racism. This document is a compilation of articles and homilies written by the Bishops on racism. In this publication the Bishops discuss Catholic social teaching and its inextricable commitment to abolishing racism in the hearts of human beings and in societal structures. Also, in this publication, the Bishops address hate crimes in society and in the Catholic Church, healing and forgiveness, and concrete suggestions for fighting racism. A poignant remark in this volume is made by Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD to his fellow Bishops:

The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the social teachings of the Church call upon as teachers and as believers to go beyond tolerance. Tolerance might be the beginning but it is not the end. Tolerance of another means accommodation, existing at a comfortable distance, or co-existing with the other. Tolerance calls one to deal with another of a different ethnic or racial background as required by the law. However, as you well know, the law does not change hearts. The Church today is being called upon to change hearts with the Word of God, the social teachings of the Church and programs geared towards understanding and respect for the privilege of difference. In Galatians (3:28) "Since everyone of you that has been baptized has been clothed in Christ, there can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither slave or free man, there can be neither male nor female–for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Paul calls us to go beyond tolerance. He calls us to dialogue, to engage in conversation, in extended interaction. He calls us to be reconciled about the past, embrace the reconciled past and be strengthened to face the future.

The phrase Christ used in the Gospel's "Physcian heal thyself," applies to us a Church today. The outward mission of the Church remains undermined and crippled by the failures of the Church within its own ranks. It is simply is not possible to be effective in our outreach if we remain mired in racism.

Part 1: Lumen Gentium and the Essential Social Justice Mission of the Church

Part 2: Brothers and Sisters to Us, The U.S. Catholic Bishops Speak Against Racism