Catholic groups call on church to confront 'institutional racism'

This story appears in the USCCB Fall 2016 feature series. View the full series.

by Stephanie Yeagle

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Thirteen Catholic organizations released a statement today calling for the Catholic church to confront the "institutional racism that continues to plague our society."

The organizations, including the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, invite their communities to commit to five points: racial solidarity training; making a space for "truth and reconciliation in our homes, organizations, and parishes"; training in "nonviolent conflict transformation; promoting programs of "unarmed civilian peacekeepers"; and requiring "de-escalation" training for police officers.

The statement, titled "We Cry Out for Racial Justice in the United States", comes the day after Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, the head of a special task force on racism for the USCCB, called for his brother bishops to release a statement of their own on racism

"A statement from the full body of bishops on racism is increasingly important at this time," said Gregory.

He urged that the administrative committee of the country's bishops, "in collaboration with relevant standing committees, do all it can to expedite the drafting and approval of the statement on racism currently contemplated in the 2017-2020 strategic plan, given the urgency of the present moment."

He said the president of the bishops' conference and relevant committees need to "identify opportunities for a shorter-term statement on these issues, particularly in the context of the postelection uncertainty and disaffection."

He also urged prayer, ecumenical and interfaith collaboration, dialogue, parish-based and diocesan conversations and training, as well as opportunities for encounter.

In a news conference that followed his afternoon presentation and ended the first day of the bishops' assembly, Gregory said he was concerned about the communities that were disrupted by violence and riots after the police shootings earlier this summer. Some of these communities are experiencing reactions and tensions brought about by the election results, he said.

"It's the hope of the task force, of people of goodwill, that the demonstrations, don't turn violent," he said.

American society has the ability to give opinions on social matters through various forms of expression, including protests, but "what we pray for is that those expressions of frustrations don't provide another vehicle for violence."

Gregory expressed hope that the church could help foster dialogue and bring healing by working with communities for a lasting peace.

"The disruptions (to the) communities that sparked the establishment of the task force have been going on for at least two years," he said. "Violence against people of color is a lot longer than two years. … The reaction to the election, it's added to that tension."

He said he was praying and hoping that "expressions of frustration, of anger, of disapproval" don't continue to disrupt the social fabric of those communities.

The full statement "We Cry Out for Racial Justice in the United States" can be read below:

As Catholic organizations committed to building God’s beloved community, we confess our own complicity and that of our organizations and our Catholic Church in the institutional racism that continues to plague our society. We have failed our black and brown brothers and sisters.  We are guilty of both conscious and unconscious discrimination and acknowledge that we have manifested racist attitudes and behaviors in our personal lives and in the structures, policies, practices and procedures of our organizations.

As organizations, we have been moved by the courage of high school and college students, parents, professional athletes, and others in local communities large and small who have taken a bold stand for racial justice.  We support your commitment to justice and thank you for taking nonviolent action that has sparked important conversations about our struggle to recognize and value the dignity of each and every person in our society.

We thank you for inviting us to reclaim the values of human dignity and equality that are the foundation of our country.  We admire your courage and creativity and for the challenge you offer to each of us. We know that Jesus modeled even greater courage and love for all, even his enemies. We pray for the strength to commit to living more fully the nonviolent love of Jesus especially in light of the racial and systemic injustice that continues to plague our communities.

We invite our communities to seriously reflect on making a commitment to 1) participate in racial solidarity training; 2) create spaces for truth and reconciliation in our homes, organizations, and parishes; 3) engage in training in nonviolent conflict transformation; 4) promote programs of unarmed civilian peacekeepers in our communities; and 5) require substantive ongoing de-escalation training for police officers.

It is time for a new paradigm that values cooperation instead of competition; that prizes transparent communication, accountability, shared power, and responsibility; and encourages holistic thinking that welcomes all points of view.

To you our brothers and sisters who resist the misuse of power — continue to demonstrate, to dialogue, and to embrace nonviolent action to bring attention to the injustices that have become too much a part of the fabric of our American way of life.  We stand with you.

Adorers of the Blood of Christ, U.S. Region
Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good
Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach
Conference of Major Superiors of Men
Faith in Public Life, Catholic Program
Franciscan Action Network
Leadership Conference of Women Religious
Missionaries of the Precious Blood Kansas City Province
National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
Pax Christi International
Pax Christi USA
Provincial Council Clerics of St. Viator
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas’ Extended Justice Team

[Catholic News Service contributed to this report.]

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