Black Catholics ask pope for apology

This article appears in the Francis in the United States feature series. View the full series.

Oakland, Calif. — Members of St. Columba Parish here will be listening very attentively during Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. to see whether he will apologize to African-Americans for the church’s role in the enslavement of people of color.

During his July visit to Bolivia, the pope apologized to indigenous people for “crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America.”

The predominately African-American congregation at St. Columba hopes an apology will be extended to them and the entire black community for the racial slavery and structural injustice practiced and/or tolerated by members of the church in the United States, both lay and ordained.  

In a letter to the pope earlier this month, Fr. Aidan McAleenan, pastor of St. Columba, asked for an official apology for the church’s “acts of racial injustice … that have stained our history from the founding of our country, through the passing of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s to the present day.”

Citing the late Benedictine Fr. Cyprian Davis’ book, The History of Black Catholics in the United States, McAleenan reminded the pope that “European-American Roman Catholics, including bishops, religious congregations, and laity both owned and sold African slaves.”

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He also noted that the bishops of the United States resisted calls for the abolition of slavery and that throughout American history the bishops “have seldom, if ever, acknowledged or apologized for this tragic history and continuing complicity in racial injustice.”

Writing on behalf of his multicultural congregation, McAleenan said given the “the pain present in the black Catholic family in the United States,” an official apology would “place the Church in the path of righting the wrong and would allow African Americans and other people of color to practically experience the practice of mercy within our Church.”

“In the end,” he wrote, “an official apology would launch the racial healing that is long overdue in U.S. Catholicism and the world we all live and share.”

[Monica Clark is an NCR West Coast Correspondent. Her email address is mclark@ncronline.org.]


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