Those of us who are white may have assumed that the Civil Rights Movement of a half-century ago did indeed bring about racial equality. But the tragic events grabbing headlines these days seem to prove the opposite. Black Americans perceive that white Americans harbor racist tendencies which we’re not willing to admit or deal with. Some 250 Catholic theologians across the nation concur and are calling for self-reflection on racism, a proactive commitment to racial justice and reconciliation between the races.
They’ve collectively issued a “Statement of Catholic Theologians on Racial Justice” that contains a list of 12 action items aimed at achieving racial justice. In it they cite a compelling passage from the “Joy of the Gospel” apostolic exhortation Pope Francis wrote a year ago that speaks of the need for systemic change.
The statement’s primary architects are theologians Tobias Winright of St. Louis University; Alex Mikulich of Loyola University, New Orleans; Vincent Miller, University of Dayton; and Bryan Massingale of Marquette University.
Issued Dec. 8, the statement first appeared on the blog www.catholicmoraltheology.com. It offers reasonable actions for nonviolently dealing with racism that all people of faith should consider doing:
● Examine within ourselves our complicity in the sin of racism and how it sustains false images of white superiority in relationship to black inferiority. In the words of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “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.”
● Fast and refrain from meat on Fridays during 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 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.
● We support our police, whose work is indeed dangerous at times, but we also call for a radical reconsideration of policing policy in our nation. We call for an end to the militarization of police departments in the U.S. We support instead the proven, effective results of community policing … A community policing approach is more consonant with our Catholic convictions that we are all each other’s keepers and should work together for the common good of our communities.
● We call for a honing of the guidelines for police use of lethal force so that they are uniform in all U.S. 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.
● We support those calling for better recruiting, training, and education for our police so that they may truly and justly do what they have sworn, namely, to “serve and protect” their communities.
● We support new efforts to promote accountability and transparency, such as body cameras for police officers.
● We call for the establishment of publicly accountable review boards staffed with civilian attorneys from within the jurisdiction and/or for the appointment of independent special prosecutors’ offices to investigate claims of police misconduct.
● We support calling for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to examine race in America.
● In view of the recent U.S. Justice Department’s report on the pattern of excessive force found in the Cleveland Police Department, we call for similar investigations of the Ferguson Police Department, the New York Police Department and other police forces involved in the killings of unarmed black citizens.
● We call upon our bishops to proactively proclaim and witness to our faith’s stand against racism. 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.
● As Catholic theologians and scholars, we commit ourselves to further teaching and scholarship on racial justice. As part of this commitment, we pledge to continue listening to, praying for and even joining in our streets with those struggling for justice through nonviolent protests and peaceful acts of civil disobedience.
We pray 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).
Locally, Christopher Whitt, an associate professor of political science at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill., who is Catholic and a black American, offers these suggestions for dealing with racism:
1. Listen with real empathy to the black people you know and the ones in our society who complain about racism. 2. Explore the concept of “micro-aggressions” and think about what it might be like to deal with them daily, monthly and yearly over the course of a lifetime. 3. Explore “White Privilege” in your own life and across the United States. How did it get us to where we are and how is it directing us where we are headed? 4. Stand up against racism in your own circles and in our nation. Comments, actions, gestures, etc… Don’t stand by silently while others perpetuate racism, misinterpretations, hate and misinformation. 5. Make an effort to educate other white folks to actively fight against racism and White Privilege. That can be done by appealing to them to act with justice for all.
Pope Paul VI once said that if we want to achieve peace, we need to work for justice. All of us — black and white people — need to work together to do just that.