Racism is not going away. Catholics can’t pretend that it will just disappear, the chair of the U.S. bishops’ new anti-racism committee said on Monday.
“The problems of racism are deep and widespread, and will take time to heal,” Bishop George Murry, S.J. of Youngstown, chair of the U.S. bishops’ new Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, told CNA on Monday. That doesn’t mean Catholics can simply do nothing, he said.
“Racism has been around for a long time. The result of racism is discrimination,” he said. People of all ages and races “have been prevented from a number of opportunities,” he said, like “housing, schooling, job opportunities.” “Young people are understandably frustrated. We don’t do them a service by not talking about this, by hoping it’ll go away,” Murry said. “We need to turn to them and say instead of throwing rocks, instead of destroying buildings, and instead of setting cars on fire, let’s sit down and talk about what concrete steps can we take to overcome this problem.”
“Sometimes a person will have problem, a physical problem, a psychological problem, and they ignore it. And they think that 'well, if I don’t do anything about it, it’ll eventually go away'. I think that’s what we have in many of the social situations in our country,” he said.
Murry spoke with CNA at an Oct. 2 gathering of Christian leaders at the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The leaders, including Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, invoked King’s 1957 essay “Non-Violence and Social Justice” to call for a peaceful response to injustice in society.
Murry explained that the bishops’ new anti-racism committee will promote human dignity, which he hoped would channel social frustrations towards peaceful solutions.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, announced the establishment of the committee in August after white supremacists and neo-Nazis rallied in Charlottesville, Va., and a 20 year-old man drove a car into the counter-protest killing one and injuring 19.
The bishop members of the committee, Murry told CNA, are Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, and Bishop Martin Holley of Memphis. Bishop consultants to the committee include Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago; Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, D.C.; Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore; Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice; and Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin. Lay consultants to the committee will be announced later this week, Murry said.
The Charlottesville violence came after months of heightened racial tensions in the United States, and demonstrations across the country. The committee was formed to respond to this developing social tension, the USCCB noted The committee will explore ways the Church can address the root causes of contemporary manifestations of racism, the conference said. The bishops will also hold public conversations about racism and race-related problems.
The committee will collaborate with the Knights of Columbus to combat racism and violence, he added. The Knights, he said, “have been a consistent voice for racial equality since they were created.” The goal of collaboration is “to try to help people to experience a change of heart, and to recognize every human being is created in the image and likeness of God.”
Although some protests in recent years turned violent — like riots in Baltimore in 2015 after the death of Freddie Gray — many demonstrations have been non-violent, and many parishes have worked admirably to address the problem of racism, Murry said. He pointed to St. Peter Claver Parish in West Baltimore, Md., St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Springfield, Ill., and Holy Trinity Parish in Dallas, Tex. as examples of Catholics “coming together to address these issues frankly and to find solutions in a non-violent way.”