Feb. 6, 2018 — “American Catholics have shown a lack of moral consciousness on the issue of race,” Bishop George Murry, SJ, of Youngstown, Ohio, said during a lecture at the Jesuits’ St. Peter's Catholic Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Jan. 27. “If we are to be true to the principles on which our country was founded and the principles on which our faith is based, we must do much more.”
St. Peter's Catholic Church welcomed Bishop Murry for its Kennedy Lecture, an annual event that aims to challenge and stimulate thinking by engaging prominent speakers in the field of religion and ethics. More than 350 people attended the lecture, "The Times Demand It, the Gospel Demands It: Confronting the Sins of Racism," which covered historical actions that perpetuated slavery and racism in the Catholic Church and in the United States and actions the church can take to confront racism in concrete, tangible ways.
Bishop Murry, who serves as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, said that the Catholic Church’s teaching on the fundamental dignity of all people has not always been reflected in its actions, especially in the U.S., where racism is “deeply rooted.”
“When considering the history of racism in the Catholic Church, one cannot help but wonder why, in the United States, there was so little social consciousness among Catholics regarding racism,” he said. “Why does it appear the church in America is incapable of taking decisive action and incapable of enunciating clear-cut principles regarding racism that have led to a change of attitude?”
“Racism is a sin that divides the human family and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same father,” Bishop Murry said.
Fr. James Shea, SJ (left), pastor of St. Peter's Catholic Church, with Bishop George Murry, SJ.
“Today the Catholic Church in America must recognize that Christ wishes to break down the walls created by the evils of racism, whether that evil is displayed publicly for all to see or buried deep in the recesses of our hearts,” Bishop Murry said. “If not, we are destined for history to continue to repeat itself, and once again the church will be perceived as a silent observer in the face of racism.”
The U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, formed last August, focuses on addressing the sin of racism in society and the Catholic Church and “the urgent need for the nation to come together to find solutions,” he said.
The committee’s plans include convening a national summit of religious leaders this year to discuss the sins of racism and conversations/listening sessions on race at Catholic organizations across the country, including in parishes, schools, seminaries and Catholic social services agencies.
The U.S. Bishops are also at work on a new pastoral letter on racism, due out this year. “Too often, we as bishops issue statements that get placed on a shelf,” Bishop Murry said. This pastoral letter will have an accompanying study guide that will help those at listening sessions to “come together and talk frankly with each other with the goal of changing attitudes and behaviors.”
In addition to listening and learning, the church must break her silence and “seek the forgiveness of those that she has victimized by her past injustices.” And the church can foster reconciliation by including people of color in leadership roles and by confronting racism wherever it occurs, according to Bishop Murry.
The Catholic Church must “speak and live in truth,” he said, “leaving behind the comfortable attitudes of superiority and fear. To get to that truth, we must break the silent complicity with the social evil of racism.” [Sources: CNS, NCR]