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Catholic bishops take on racism in society and the church

Ku Klux Klan members salute during a KKK rally in Justice Park on July 8, 2017, in Charlottesville, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

(RNS) — The head of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ anti-racism task force told his colleagues that racism “lives in a particular and pernicious way” in the United States.

“Christ wishes to break down the walls created by the evils of racism,” Bishop George Murry of Youngstown told the bishops on Monday (Nov. 13) as they gathered in Baltimore for their annual November meeting.

“Racism still exists and has found a troubling resurgence in recent years,” he said, noting the “white supremacists and neo-Nazis [who] marched with hate-inspired messages in Charlottesville, Virginia,” in August.

“The hatred that is often in hiding for some was on full display,” said Murry, who is African-American.

Murry is chair of the U.S. Bishops Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, which was established after Charlottesville by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

Without naming names, Murry acknowledged that “some leaders and institutions within the Church have, at times, been part of the problem or failed to live up to our teaching in resisting racism.”

“But the Church as an institution and Catholics in all walks of life have also dedicated themselves, arm-in-arm with many others, to rooting out racism throughout the years,” he said.

He recalled the 1979 pastoral letter, “Brothers and Sisters to Us,” where the U.S. Bishops wrote: “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.”

Pope Benedict XVI greets Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, during a 2012 meeting with U.S. bishops on their “ad limina” visits to the Vatican. U.S. bishops from Ohio were making their “ad limina” visits to report on the status of their dioceses to the pope and Vatican officials. Photo courtesy of CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano

Since its creation in August, the Ad Hoc Committee has worked with the USCCB staff to produce resources to assist in preaching and teaching against racism, some of which is available on the USCCB website.

The committee is also planning a national ecumenical and interfaith convening to take place in 2018, reported Murry. “This event is meant to begin a series of listening sessions and dialogues about racism within and outside of the Church, including its roots and impacts — spiritual and civil, individual and structural.”

Murry also reported meeting with members of Congress and their staffs to “learn about the work that is already being done, as we consider ideas about how best to go forward.”

This story is available for republication.

About the author

Thomas Reese

The Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit priest, is a Senior Analyst at RNS. Previously he was a columnist at the National Catholic Reporter (2015-17) and an associate editor (1978-85) and editor in chief (1998-2005) at America magazine. He was also a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University (1985-98 & 2006-15) where he wrote Archbishop, A Flock of Shepherds, and Inside the Vatican. Earlier he worked as a lobbyist for tax reform. He has a doctorate in political science from the University of California Berkeley. He entered the Jesuits in 1962 and was ordained a priest in 1974 after receiving a M.Div from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley.