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U.S. bishops form panel to address ‘sin of racism’ that afflicts nation

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WASHINGTON — Saying there is an “urgent need” to address “the sin of racism” in the country and find solutions to it, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has established a new Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism and named one of the country’s African-American Catholic bishops to chair it.

Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, will lead the new U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism. (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review)

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, initiated the committee Aug. 23 “to focus on addressing the sin of racism in our society, and even in our church, and the urgent need to come together as a society to find solutions.”

He appointed Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Catholic Education, to chair the new ad hoc committee.

“Recent events have exposed the extent to which the sin of racism continues to afflict our nation,” Cardinal DiNardo said in a statement. “The establishment of this new ad hoc committee will be wholly dedicated to engaging the church and our society to work together in unity to challenge the sin of racism, to listen to persons who are suffering under this sin, and to come together in the love of Christ to know one another as brothers and sisters.”

The naming of members to serve on the new body will be finalized soon, the USCCB said in an announcement. It added that the committee’s mandate “will be confirmed at the first meeting.”

“I look forward to working with my brother bishops as well as communities across the United States to listen to the needs of individuals who have suffered under the sin of racism and together find solutions to this epidemic of hate that has plagued our nation for far too long,” Bishop Murry said in a statement.

“Through Jesus’ example of love and mercy, we are called to be a better people than what we have witnessed over the past weeks and months as a nation. Through listening, prayer and meaningful collaboration, I’m hopeful we can find lasting solutions and common ground where racism will no longer find a place in our hearts or in our society.”

The new ad hoc committee also will “welcome and support” implementation of the U.S. bishops’ new pastoral letter on racism, expected to be released in 2018. In 1979, the bishops issued a pastoral in racism titled “Brothers and Sisters to Us,” in which the overall message then as today was “racism is a sin.”

Creation of a new formal body that is part of the USCCB, formed on the USCCB Executive Committee’s “unanimous recommendation,” speaks to how serious the U.S. Catholic Church leaders take the problem of racism in America today.

It is the first ad hoc committee the bishops have established since instituting the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty in 2011 to address growing concerns over the erosion of freedom of religion in America. The federal governments mandate that all employers, including religious employers provide health care coverage of artificial contraceptives and abortifacients was one of the key issues that prompted formation of the committee.

Chaired by Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, that body was elevated to full USCCB committee status during the bishops’ spring assembly in Indianapolis this past June.

In addition to the Executive Committee’s recommendation, the USCCB said, the decision to initiate the new Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism also was made in consultation with members of the USCCB’s Committee on Priorities and Plans.

The formation of the ad hoc committee also follows the conclusion of the work of the Peace in Our Communities Task Force. The task force was formed in July 2016 by then-Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., who was then USCCB president. He initiated it in response to racially related shootings in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as well as in Minneapolis and Dallas.

To head it he named Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta, one of the nation’s African-American prelates who was the first black Catholic bishop to be president of the USCCB (2001-2004).

The task force’s mandate was to explore ways of promoting peace and healing around the country.

On Nov. 14, 2016, during the USCCB’s fall general assembly, Archbishop Gregory told the bishops to issue, sooner rather than later, a document on racism.

“A statement from the full body of bishops on racism is increasingly important at this time,” said the archbishop in reporting on the work of the task force.

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.

The bishops’ 1979 pastoral, now in its 19th printing, declared: “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.”

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Catholic theologians decry sin of racism, pledge to work for justice

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This year the “hope for a just peace” that is Advent “must face the flagrant failures of a nation still bound by sin, our bondage to and complicity in racial injustice,” said a group of Catholic theologians.

“The killings of black men, women and children … by white policemen, and the failures of the grand jury process to indict some of the police officers involved, brought to our attention not only problems in law enforcement today, but also deeper racial injustice in our nation, our communities and even our churches,” they said.

A Los Angeles protester with arms raised participates in a Nov. 25 march following the grand jury decision in the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. More than 300 U.S. theologians issued a statement Dec. 8 decrying the "pervasive sin of racism" and vowing to fight for justice for African-Americans and other minorities. (CNS photo/Lucy Nicholson, Reuters)

A Los Angeles protester with arms raised participates in a Nov. 25 march following the grand jury decision in the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. More than 300 U.S. theologians issued a statement Dec. 8 decrying the “pervasive sin of racism” and vowing to fight for justice for African-Americans and other minorities. (CNS photo/Lucy Nicholson, Reuters)

By midday Dec. 10, more than 310 theologians from all over the United States had signed on to the statement posted on the website www.catholicmoraltheology.com, which is a project of North American Catholic moral theologians.

The Dec. 8 statement was issued in response to, among other incidents, the decision by grand juries in Missouri and New York not to indict white police officers in the deaths of two African-American males — the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and the chokehold death of Eric Garner on Staten Island, New York.

Garner’s final words, “I can’t breathe,” continue to be chanted in the streets by protesters around the country, the theologians noted. His words, along with “Jesus breathing on his disciples, telling them, ‘Peace be with you,’ gives his disciples, then and now, the power and obligation to raise our voices” for a just peace, they said.

Quoting from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” the theologians said his words resonate as much today as they did then. “The ‘cup of endurance runs over’ again for African-Americans and many others of good will. Our streets are filled with those exhausted by the need to explain yet again why we can’t wait (for justice).”

Rev. King, they said, “challenged ‘white moderate’ Christians for being ‘more devoted to order than to justice’ and for preferring ‘a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.’” Pope Francis, too, has warned “of the explosive consequences of exclusion and fearful seeking of security based on such a negative peace,” the theologians said.

“As Catholic theologians, we wish to go on the record in calling for a serious examination of both policing and racial injustice in the U.S.,” the statement said. “The time demands that we leave some mark that U.S. Catholic theologians did not ignore what is happening in our midst, as the vast majority sadly did during the 1960s Civil Rights movement.”

Among other actions the theologians said they would:

• “Examine within ourselves our complicity in the sin of racism and how it sustains false images of white superiority in relationship to black inferiority.”

• “Fast and to refrain from meat on Fridays during this Advent season and through the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany, as well as during Lent, as a sign of our penitence and need of conversion from the pervasive sin of racism.”

• “Commit ourselves to placing our bodies and/or privilege on the line in visible, public solidarity with movements of protest to address the deep-seated racism of our nation.”

— “Commit ourselves to further teaching and scholarship on racial justice. Our faith teaches us that all persons are created in the image of God and have been redeemed in Christ Jesus.”

The theologians said they support police, “whose work is indeed dangerous at times,” but called for “a radical reconsideration of policing policy in our nation” and “an end to the militarization of police departments. … We support instead the proven, effective results of community policing.”

They urged “a honing of the guidelines for police use of lethal force so that they are uniform in all states … and so that the use of lethal force, echoing Catholic teaching on ‘legitimate defense,’ is justified only when an aggressor poses a grave and imminent threat to the officer’s and/or other persons’ lives.”

The group said it supported calls “for better recruiting, training and education” for all police so they will truly “serve and protect” their communities.

The theologians said establishing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission is necessary to examine racism in the United States. They called for appointing independent special prosecutors to look into police shootings, since dissatisfaction with the grand jury system is widespread. The group also said the U.S. Department of Justice must investigate whether excessive use of force is a pattern for some police departments, such as in Ferguson and New York City.

“We call upon our bishops to proactively proclaim and witness to our faith’s stand against racism,” the group said. “They have authored pastoral statements in the past, and these documents need to be revisited, in parishes, dioceses, and seminaries, and brought to the forefront of Catholic teaching and action in light of the present crisis.”

Among the U.S. bishops’ documents is their 1979 pastoral letter “Brothers and Sisters to Us,” which said that “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.”

The theologians prayed that “all of these actions will move us closer toward the fulfillment of the hope of the Advent season, toward a time when ‘love and truth will meet; justice and peace will kiss’ (Psalm 85:10).”

 

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