Culture Ethics Faith Opinion Politics Race & Ethnicity Social Issues Thomas Reese: Signs of the Times

Catholic bishops take on racism in society and the church

Ku Klux Klan members salute during a KKK rally in Justice Park on July 8, 2017, in Charlottesville, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

(RNS) — The head of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ anti-racism task force told his colleagues that racism “lives in a particular and pernicious way” in the United States.

“Christ wishes to break down the walls created by the evils of racism,” Bishop George Murry of Youngstown told the bishops on Monday (Nov. 13) as they gathered in Baltimore for their annual November meeting.

“Racism still exists and has found a troubling resurgence in recent years,” he said, noting the “white supremacists and neo-Nazis [who] marched with hate-inspired messages in Charlottesville, Virginia,” in August.

“The hatred that is often in hiding for some was on full display,” said Murry, who is African-American.

Murry is chair of the U.S. Bishops Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, which was established after Charlottesville by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

Without naming names, Murry acknowledged that “some leaders and institutions within the Church have, at times, been part of the problem or failed to live up to our teaching in resisting racism.”

“But the Church as an institution and Catholics in all walks of life have also dedicated themselves, arm-in-arm with many others, to rooting out racism throughout the years,” he said.

He recalled the 1979 pastoral letter, “Brothers and Sisters to Us,” where the U.S. Bishops wrote: “Racism is a sin: a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father.”

Pope Benedict XVI greets Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, during a 2012 meeting with U.S. bishops on their “ad limina” visits to the Vatican. U.S. bishops from Ohio were making their “ad limina” visits to report on the status of their dioceses to the pope and Vatican officials. Photo courtesy of CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano

Since its creation in August, the Ad Hoc Committee has worked with the USCCB staff to produce resources to assist in preaching and teaching against racism, some of which is available on the USCCB website.

The committee is also planning a national ecumenical and interfaith convening to take place in 2018, reported Murry. “This event is meant to begin a series of listening sessions and dialogues about racism within and outside of the Church, including its roots and impacts — spiritual and civil, individual and structural.”

Murry also reported meeting with members of Congress and their staffs to “learn about the work that is already being done, as we consider ideas about how best to go forward.”

About the author

Thomas Reese

The Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit priest, is a Senior Analyst at RNS. Previously he was a columnist at the National Catholic Reporter (2015-17) and an associate editor (1978-85) and editor in chief (1998-2005) at America magazine. He was also a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University (1985-98 & 2006-15) where he wrote Archbishop, A Flock of Shepherds, and Inside the Vatican. Earlier he worked as a lobbyist for tax reform. He has a doctorate in political science from the University of California Berkeley. He entered the Jesuits in 1962 and was ordained a priest in 1974 after receiving a M.Div from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley.


Click here to post a comment

  • US bishops talk a lot. But when it comes to supporting candidates who champion civil rights or spending their vast wealth on working towards solutions or getting out into the street to demonstrate, the bishops are MIA.

  • For those not in the know, racism is rampant in catholic religious orders as well. The difference here is that they are aware of it and are trying hard to deal with it. The big question is how does society as a whole break this cycle that has zero logic, is a colossal falsity, and move forward. Why do people cling to racism where in some cases it’s used like a security blanket that a child refuses to let go of? Why is racism unconsciously/consciously passed down through the generation like a treasured keep sake? Furthermore, why do people want to go around living life rejecting, avoiding, denying other people they do not even know who have done nothing to them personally the rights they themselves enjoy and cherish. It’s not like rights are a commodity, a scarce resource defined by a finite quantity, but costs us nothing and frees people from the baggage of hate and negativity.

  • The worst racism is abortion, which kills half of black babies every year in the U.S.; and in California more than half of abortions are of Latino babies. The bishops need to withhold communion from all pro-abort U.S. politicians until they pass laws protecting babies of all races, creeds and colors.

  • What the bishops need to address asap before their religion implodes:

    -The inadequate response to the inappropriate conduct of many priests, the emotional stress on the victims, the resultant billion dollars in lawsuits and bankrupt dioceses,
    -The lack of talent in the priesthood,
    -The lack of Vatican response to the historic Jesus movement,
    -The Church’s continuing cling to original sin and the resulting subsets of crazy ideas like baptism and limbo,
    -The denial of priesthood to women,
    The restriction of priesthood to single men (unless you are former Episcopalian priests),
    -The continued chain of Vatican “leadership” by old European/Argentinian white men,
    – Natural “birth control” leading to many unplanned pregnancies and resultant abortions,
    -Uncontrolled suffering of the aged that need not be,
    -And the unrealistic dogmas such as the Immaculate Conception, Assumption, atonement and papal infallibility.

  • In other words your plan is that they should officially call themselves Protestants, Apostates or Heretics and close the Vatican. With Pope Humbleness leading the current Circus Maximus in Rome it has essentially happened since He and most of the Bishops could never be convicted of being Catholic.

  • It’s nice to see the bishops finally speaking out against racism, but their silence during the desegregation battles of the ‘sixties was positively DEAFENING, at least, for the most part.

  • Well….altho they may forget about silly, unimportant issues like racism, they *do* remember to speak out and recommend “anti-abortion” candidates–even while retaining their tax relief.

    Don’t get me wrong–I’m pro-choice, anti-racist, etc…but also anti-hypocrisy, i.e. disgusted with the RCC and its bishops.

  • Y’know…the thing that’s been overlooked about all those cases is that their fellow priests had to have known what the abusers were doing. We know well that the bishops or the priests’ superiors knew; I cannot see any way that the colleagues were ignorant of what was going on, or had no suspicious.

    The church has done a marvelous job of selling outsiders on the idea that it never knew what was going on, thought these were “one-off” incidents, and so on.

  • I’d say three things:

    People know what they want to know.

    As a friend of mine, a former seminarian told me, the church makes sure very early on that the priests know that the church comes first.

    A lot of seminarians go there because they are trying to escape their sexuality, though they merely call it “sinning”, like it will go away. This a priest need only confess his sin to get right with god, until the next time.

  • Regarding your second sentence, ultimately, those decisions are a matter of human judgement, which we know is swayed *extremely* easily by a variety of considerations. The fact that the church is notoriously short of priests no doubt has a very large influence.

    I have no doubt your third para is a key to understanding a lot of things.

  • So the Bishop wants to fix racism in the church? Then start truly championing causes that are relevant in the world today and not the nonsense. Address those who claim they are pastors but spit out hatred and discontent in the name of God. Stand you ground first then you can start to talk about such issues

  • Actually, MANY Catholics, including not only laymen/women, but clergy, alike, marched on behalf of blacks during the 60’s. In fact, one particular bishop from our city, whose name I shall not mention, made a comment to a reporter for a local Catholic paper that, in my opinion, sounded as if he was bragging about how he and others happily and arrogantly snubbed and further upset Caucasian Southerners who watched the marchers from their porches or windows. Now, it is one thing to march, but it is quite another to take pleasure in snubbing or upsetting others. In fact, we Catholics are always hounded by priests AND bishops about “forgiving, doing good to, and praying for our enemies,” as well about avoiding “the sin of pride.” Thus, I found this bishop’s comment not only unchristian, but hypocritical, and, to say the least, unbecoming of a Roman Catholic bishop.

  • Many Catholic clergy marched with lay people during the 1960’s, including one bishop that I happen to have met.

  • Well, if you are “pro-choice,” then you are racist, and I mean racist against ALL races because people of ALL races get abortions, and an abortion is an act in which a female murders her own child, and as minutely small as that child may be, it is “alive,” which means it “has life” and “is living,” and since its species is neither plant nor animal, but human, it is a “living human.” What also disgusts me is the liberal crap that has been growing, and that grew exponentially under DICtator Hussein Obama, that allows racist, anti-conservative, hard-core leftists such as BLM and ANTIFA to dictate who has and who does NOT have the right of “FREE SPEECH,” i.e. the FIRST AMENDMENT. Just remember how many times ANTIFA, with their distinctive disguise, disrupted Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking at Berkeley, and the number of times BOTH groups have prevented other right-wing speakers from asserting their First Amendment rights? It is quite remarkable how FEW arrests have been made whenever these anarchists have decided to violently riot, destroying thousands of dollars of property and threatening people who are simply trying to drive down the street!!!:-((( Then the idiots have the NERVE to cry foul when a driver proceeds and one of their anarchists gets injured, lol!!! Finally, while we may not like the KKK or the Aryans, who hate not only blacks, but Roman Catholics and Italians, both of which I am, when these groups have a permit to speak or to protest, no one has the right to prevent them, and certainly, NO one has the right to physically attack them, and people who perform such actions should be arrested!!

  • So who are these pastors who “spit out hate and discontent in the name of God”? I am a cradle Roman Catholic, and my main problem with the Church is its liberalism. There IS one parish I know of where the gay pastor spews out anti-Trump hatred and hatred for conservative family and moral values, so I suppose I should report him, but to whom? The bishop is as liberal as they come, and the current “pope” is a false prophet, so if anyone has any ideas, please advise me; thank you. P.S.: This is a serious question, so no sarcasm, please.

  • That’s another problem that hasn’t been addressed. The seminary rectors are often gay, and the seminaries are filled with gays. The priest shortage is man-made as many worth candidates are rejected and told they are “too rigid,” which is code for “straight” OR “not into the gay agenda.”

  • What about the extreme anti-Caucasian and anti-Christian bigotry that’s been encouraged by the Left, especially DICtator Obama? This includes numerous black flash mobs that have been attacking not only Caucasian-owned businesses, including various Walmart stores, but Caucasians themselves? You probably have not heard of these incidents because the liberal lamestream media will NOT report them, AND law enforcement will NOT investigate them. Oakland is just one of many cities with a large percentage of blacks that have been the site of such anti-Caucasian violence!!! If you think these incidents are going to stop anti-black racism, you’d better think again. In addition, when the first wave of non-Protestant (i.e.: Catholic) Caucasian immigrants came over to America from Europe, particularly Poles, Irish, and Italians, they suffered horrible discrimination. Not only were they barred from entering various establishments, but they were physically attacked, even lynched!! When I was old enough to understand, my grandparents and my parents told me stories about the discrimination they suffered, and when I was a youngster, I suffered it, as well, but at the time, I didn’t understand why certain neighborhood adults were distant toward me and my family, or why two neighborhood boys called me “a gang girl,” or why mothers who had previously allowed me to play with their children, suddenly barred me from stepping onto their property. Finally, it’s important to un- derstand that most of the early European immigrants came to America with little to nothing, yet they went to work for long hours and low wages and were too proud to depend upon others, especially the government, for assistance. Yet most of these immigrants saved up enough money to buy their own homes. Some built their own businesses and many send their children to college. One thing that stood out about most of these immigrants was that they married BEFORE they had their children. Perhaps if today’s blacks analyzed the lives of these successful immigrants, they might learn a thing of two; in fact, some of that “racism” they’re always complaining about might just disappear.