Black Catholics: Words not enough as church decries racism

Black Catholics: Words not enough as church decries racism

Saturday, June 27, 2020

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NEW YORK, United States (AP) — Black Roman Catholics are hearing their church's leaders calling for racial justice once again after the killing of George Floyd, but this time they're demanding not just words but action.

As protests against racism and police brutality continue nationwide, there are rising calls for huge, new investment in Catholic schools serving black communities; a commitment to teach the complex history of black Catholics; and a mobilisation to combat racism with the same zeal the church shows in opposing abortion.

“As a church, we're very good with words. The church has made clear it stands against racism,” said the Rev Mario Powell, a black priest who heads a Jesuit middle school in Brooklyn.

“What's profoundly different this time is folks aren't looking for more words — they're looking for actual change,” he said.

Noting that hundreds of Catholic inner-city schools have closed in recent decades, he's among those urging church leaders to make the necessary spending to reverse that. He also said all Catholic schools should teach the history of black Catholics in America.

“It's a history of discrimination and oppression,” said Powell, 38. “It's also a very rich history that should be celebrated, of a population that has overcome a lot.”

In 2018, after what it called an accumulation of “episodes of violence and animosity with racial and xenophobic overtones”, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a pastoral letter condemning racism and vowing to combat it. Numerous bishops issued similar statements following Floyd's death under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer.

Professor Shannen Dee Williams, a black Catholic, who teaches history at Villanova University, argued in a June 15 article in the National Catholic Reporter that such responses are insufficient.

The recent statements “fall way short when it comes to acknowledging the church's role in the contemporary crisis and direct complicity in the sins of anti-black racism, slavery, and segregation,” she wrote, noting that the church was a major slave holder in several states and engaged in segregation of parishes, schools, hospitals, convents, and seminaries for decades after emancipation.


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