NEW YORK — One month after the United States Catholic Bishops announced they would form an ad hoc committee to fight the sin of racism, many members of the Church hierarchy are also taking stock to see how they can resist racism in their own backyards.
In a major lecture last week at The Catholic University of America, Bishop Edward Braxton of Belleville, Illinois, said debates over Civil War monuments and Confederate memorials didn’t have a single solution, but would be best solved at a local level.
While the U.S. bishops are expected to release an updated pastoral letter on racism in 2018, Braxton says he hopes it will be embraced not just by a handful of congregations of color but also that “large suburban parishes with no people of color would read it” and re-examine how their own churches can address the problem.
Braxton’s remarks were delivered at a day-long “teach-in” at The Catholic University of America for members of the National Catholic School of Social Service. The program aimed to provide an examination of the ways in which students could learn to address systemic racism.
In a column last week, Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles argued that while laws are an important part of racial reconciliation, much more will be required.
“Laws alone cannot change people’s hearts and minds,” Gomez wrote.
In considering “young black and Latino men dying in the streets,” Gomez is encouraging the Church to look to the examples of Martin Luther King, Jr, Dorothy Day, and Cesar Chavez, who advocated for non-violent solutions to conflict.
“No one is born hating another group of people. Hate is something that is learned. And so it must be ‘unlearned.’ That means we need to become teachers of love,” wrote Gomez.
One practical way the example of non-violence is being implanted is in the Archdiocese of Chicago, where Cardinal Blase Cupich issued a decree earlier this month banning guns from all parishes, schools, and other diocesan property.
This effort is a follow-up to Cupich’s decision last April to spend $250,000 to support grass-roots anti-violence programs, particularly ones aimed at reducing poverty and promoting racial healing.
Pope Francis even weighed in on the occasion, sending a letter to Cupich stating that he was both aware of the situation in Chicago and praying for an end to violence.
“I know that many families have lost loved ones to violence. I am close to them, I share in their grief, and pray that they may experience healing and reconciliation through God’s grace,” the pope wrote.
Meanwhile, in El Paso, Texas, Bishop Mark Seitz has intervened in city developers’ efforts to demolish the Duranguito neighborhood, a place of cultural heritage and pride for border residents.
Seitz spoke at a recent city council hearing over the matter, and in a statement released last week, the bishop lamented what he described as “increasing tension and mutual distrust.”
In appealing to residents of the city to work together, Seitz recalled Francis’s words in his 2015 encyclical Laudato si’ , in which he writes, “It is important that the different parts of a city be well integrated and that those that live there have a sense of the whole. Others will then no longer be seen as strangers, but as part of a ‘we,’ which all of us are working to create.”
The deadly events of Charlottesville, Virginia—where neo-Nazis, KKK members, and white supremacists violently protested the removal of a confederate statue—prompted the decision by the U.S. bishops to launch their ad hoc committee on racism.
Yet even before the bishops formed a national committee, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, New York had announced his own plan to create a special diocesan committee on racism.
DiMarzio’s announcement came at a special mass for solidarity and peace held in August in which the bishop said the diocese would look at the practical ways it listens to those “suffering under this sin” of racism.
“We should not tolerate monuments to people who were racists or tried to destroy our democracy,” DiMarzio told those in attendance.
In San Diego, Bishop Robert McElroy has asked the diocesan staff to develop an education module for children and young adults that would help address the “Charlottesville moment.”
Following the events of Charlottesville, McElroy joined together with dozens of faith leaders in southern California to condemn racism and pledged to work together to combat it.
According to McElroy “one of the most troubling elements” of the events in Charlottesville was the fact that so many young people were engaging in racist activities.
“That day must become a marker for all of us to take new dedication to removing the poison of religious and ethnic and racial bigotry from our midst, and to make white supremacy a thing of the past,” said McElroy.