WASHINGTON, D.C. — Following Iowa congressman Steve King’s remarks in defense of white nationalism and white supremacy, Bishop Walker Nickless of Sioux City said the representative’s comments “seem totally inappropriate.”
King is a convert to Catholicism and resides within the diocese where Nickless is bishop.
King’s remarks led to his removal from his posts on two congressional committees, and also led to rare calls from senior Republican colleagues for his resignation.
On Tuesday, King attempted to walk back those comments by voting for a House resolution that condemned white supremacy, with Nickless telling Crux in an e-mail that King’s vote seems to be a recognition of the seriousness of the blowback following his remarks.
Despite King’s vote, some congressional members have insisted that he is unrepentant and should move on.
Nickless used the controversy sparked by King to remind Catholics of the recent publication of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) new pastoral letter on racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts.”
“This might be an occasion for all of us to examine our attitude towards acceptance of others different from ourselves,” he said. “I ask all members of our community to read the bishops’ new pastoral letter on racism called ‘Open Wide Our Hearts.’ In our personal lives, and in our public policies, we should treat all people with dignity as they are created in the image of God.”
The letter was approved in November at the general assembly of U.S. bishops, and is part of the U.S. bishops’ ongoing response to racism, which has been elevated following the fatal killing of a counter-protester during a white supremacist rally in August 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Citing 1 Corinthians, Nickless said, “If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.”
“In our letter, we also said, ‘As Christians, we know it is our duty to love others.’ St. Paul reminds us that we live by the Spirit, and the ‘fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control,’” he wrote.
This is not the first time King has used racist or inflammatory language — nor is it the first time his bishop has spoken out against his rhetoric.
In 2013, Nickless specifically expressed disapproval over King’s use of language regarding immigrants.
At the time, King said of young immigrants: “For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that — they weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
Although he was raised Methodist, King converted to Catholicism for his wife seventeen years after marrying her.
“I had to feel it and believe it before I could do it,” he has previously said while discussing his conversion.
In 2015, prior to Pope Francis’s address to a joint session of U.S. Congress, King expressed wariness of the pope’s views on free enterprise, climate change, and migrants and refugees. Last November, King won re-election for his seat in Iowa, where he has represented the state in the House of Representatives since 2003.
In light of the latest controversy, Nickless seemed eager to broaden the focus beyond King as an examination of conscience for all Catholics.
“Each of us needs to be honest with ourselves, examine our conscience, and ask if these fruits are really present in our attitudes about race,” said Nickless.
“If not, what are we going to do about it?” he asked.