America’s Catholic Bishops Need to Treat Non-Whites as Moral Adults

The U.S. Catholic bishops deny that blacks, Latinos, Asians are capable of racism.

By Christopher Manion Published on September 18, 2016

Back in July, Catholic News Service reported: “Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, Georgia, who was the first African-American president of the US bishops’ conference, has been appointed as chair of a new task force of the U.S. bishops to deal with racial issues brought into public consciousness following a series of summertime shootings that left both citizens and police officers among those dead.”

A racism task force. This could be very good news indeed — if Catholic bishops are willing to confront the issue squarely and theologically. They’ll have to do better than their last major statement on the subject, issued 37 years ago. Their 1979 Pastoral Letter on Racism had a stark, if simplistic message: “racism” is a “terrible sin”; moreover, while “most” whites are racists (whether they know it or not), nobody else is.

According to the pastoral letter, the “racism that permeates our society’s structures and resides in the hearts of many among the majority” is a sin so “subtle” that that most of us don’t even know that we’re sinning!

In their letter, the 1979 bishops both beat their breasts and threw some stones, asserting: “Each of us [in the racial majority], in varying degrees, is responsible. All of us in some measure are accomplices,” they alleged, though they inserted a curious caveat. “Perhaps no single individual is to blame,” they wrote. “The sinfulness is often anonymous but nonetheless real. The sin is social in nature. …” Anonymous sin that floats out in the ether, which we’re not even conscious of committing — that doesn’t sound like traditional moral theology so much as fuzzy, late-70s sociology with a dash of cultural Marxism. Perhaps anonymous sin can only be repented of by anonymous Christians.

The old pastoral letter’s assertion that most in the “majority” are somehow guilty of a deadly but “subtle” sin was ahead of its time. Social justice warriors today echo the bishops’ charges, as conservative columnist Denise McAllister notes:

To believe the GOP is inherently racist, you have to believe in some degree of covert racism, which is — as described by Paul Sniderman and Thomas Piazza in The Scar of Race — “a racism that is disguised and subtle but real all the same.” Because racial prejudice is now socially unacceptable, “People therefore favor disguised, indirect ways to express their bigotry.”

If Anything Can Be Labeled “Racist,” Doesn’t the Term Lose Any Meaning?

This charge has thrived in the political arena. In a statement issued after a black terrorist motivated by Black Lives Matter killed five policemen in Dallas, Hillary Clinton blamed “systemic racism” in police departments: “Federal policing guidelines are needed because “we have 18,000 police departments… [some of which need more training to] go after systemic racism, which is a reality, and to go after systemic bias,” she claimed.

A day later, at a memorial service for the murdered Dallas policemen, President Obama echoed Mrs. Clinton’s statement, saying, “We have all seen this bigotry in our lives at some point. None of us is entirely innocent. No institution is entirely immune. And that includes our police departments. We know this.”

When Donald Trump pledged to enforce immigration laws already on the books, historian Josh Zeitz told USA Today that “the term law and order in modern American politics is, ipso facto, a racially tinged term.”

As it stands, those politicians charging Republicans, Trump supporters, and policemen with “bigotry” and “systemic racism” could legitimately assert that the most recent (1979) American Catholic statement on the issue supplies more than enough moral authority for their attacks.

Is this scenario really what those bishops had in mind? In reviewing that document, Archbishop Gregory’s task force might consider reflecting on two salient questions:

  • Might the pastoral’s broad-brush tarring of whites be lacking in charity, implicitly defaming millions of Americans? And
  • Is it really impossible for members of racial minorities to be racists?

A layman might wonder why America’s current bishops didn’t address these questions years ago. The easy answer is that perhaps those bishops agree with the pastoral letter’s sweeping charges.

U.S. Catholic Bishops Still Treat Racism as a One-Way Street

Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, the bishops’ point man on immigration issues, often condemns the “nativism,” “racism,” and “xenophobic attitudes” that allegedly motivate white opponents of amnesty for illegal aliens.

When Dylann Roof, an avowed white racist, massacred Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney and eight members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina in June 2015, Archbishop Gomez wrote, “We need to pray harder and work harder to put an end to racism in our country and gun violence in our communities.” No one should argue with him there. USCCB President Archbishop Kurtz of Louisville also responded to the Charleston murders. “Our efforts must address racism and the violence so visible today,” he said.

However, when the tables are turned, our bishops’ statements are more circumspect.

After blacks murdered policemen in Dallas and Baton Rouge, various bishops condemned “senseless violence” (Bishop Farrell of Dallas), “tragic events” (Bishop Muench of Baton Rouge), the “cycle of violence” (Archbishop Cupich of Chicago), and “pervasive gun violence” (Archbishop Kurtz, who also called for “dialogue”).

“No racism here, move along,” they seem to say.

Federal Funding is the Opiate of the Bishops

Yes, the errant message of the 1979 pastoral letter lingers on, introducing a troubling contradiction in the pastoral approach of U.S. Catholic bishops today.

“We bishops are pastors, we’re not politicians,” said Archbishop Kurtz’s predecessor at the USCC, New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, in February 2012. Nonetheless, the USCC has long supported and lobbied for the welfare-state agenda of the Democratic Party, and the bishops and their NGOs receive over a billion dollars a year in federal taxpayer funding as part of that agenda.

In December 2012, Cardinal Dolan told the president on Meet the Press that America’s Catholic bishops were “some of your greatest supporters,” and went on to say that the bishops want to be Obama’s “cheerleaders.” The subject at hand was Obamacare, but their support for Obama’s social agenda goes much further. In spite of the administration’s relentless attacks on religious liberty, and advocacy of abortion, the bishops’ lobbyists continue consistently to support the administration’s policies on such issues as immigration, welfare spending, and foreign aid.

Shortly after Trump announced his candidacy in 2015, Cardinal Dolan attacked his “virulent strain” of “nativism.” On the other side of the ledger, however, we find no record of the bishops’ conference or its leaders condemning the prolific race-baiters inside and outside of the Obama Administration and the Clinton campaign — and only a few statements about abortion or attacks on marriage.

Admittedly, our bishops are in a very precarious position. Legal challenges abound regarding the independence of Catholic institutions, especially those receiving government funding. If the bishops publicly confront the reality that whites might not be the only racists on the planet, they will undoubtedly provoke the Democrats, who will not be slow in seeking retribution.

Moreover, in the short term, such an admission would undoubtedly be interpreted as a tacit endorsement, however tentative, of Donald Trump — who has promised to end the government programs for harboring illegal aliens, programs from which the bishops, their dioceses, and their NGOs receive tens of millions of dollars a year in taxpayer funding.

So answering the simple question, “Can only whites be racists?” might not be so easy as it sounds. Like many church documents, the 1979 pastoral letter on racism was several years in the making. Those were tumultuous years for Catholics, as historian James Hitchcock has ably recounted. But instead of correcting the pastoral’s profound errors in these more sensible times, America’s next generation of bishops actually commemorated the pastoral letter 25 years later without changing a word.

According to the July 21 news release, “The task force’s work will conclude with the USCCB’s fall general meeting in November, at which time it will report on its activities and recommendations for future work.”

The task force’s first order of business must be to confront and correct the errors of their 1979 pastoral letter. It is past time that our bishops abandon their simplistic and politicized position that racism is a “whites only” privilege.


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  • Elephantinanocean

    It should be pointed out , that the pastoral letter from 1979 , as well as other statements you provide, are aimed at addressing racism in the USA, not the Catholic Church as a whole. For example you say , “If the bishops publicly confront the reality that whites might not be the only racists on the planet, they will undoubtedly provoke the Democrats, who will not be slow in seeking retribution.” You are taking the pastoral letter out of context when you apply it to the whole planet.

    The same can be applied with your question “Can only whites be prejudice?” Of course the Catholic Church does not teach that, if anyone believes such nonsense i must ask you please remove your tinfoil hat! Now apply that same question to American Catholics, which is how you started your article , by addressing US Bishops , then you make some interesting points! Having worked with African American community for several years , i can absolutely say that through my own personal experience i have witnessed African American racism. Racism is not just one thing or one way , it is a evil that can and does infect every cultural group. It is only Christ who can set us free.

  • SophieA

    Do the bishops really say that European Americans are all racists and “irredeemable deplorables?” As a European American Catholic, it would be good to hear our national shepherds speaking the truth of our faith filled with forgiveness and redemption and not political hogwash. Pointing fingers and blaming all a nation’s ills on one race of people never ends well.

    • Elephantinanocean

      They are not, the pastoral letter was meant for American Catholics addressing race within the USA at the time.

      The author made some good points . But then he starts going a little off track by implying the US Bishops were addressing the white culture of the world. They were addressing US racism at the current time during the late 1960’s.

      • SophieA

        Well, that’s a relief. As a recent convert, I had never heard of this until reading this article. Thank you for the clarification.

        • Elephantinanocean

          Np, a lot of people might be surprised to know we have already had 3 African Popes, and many African Saints. Africans have contributed so much to the Catholic Church. The most popular probably being St. Augustine. A great book called “God or Nothing” , a must read imo , was written last year by a popular african named Cardinal Robert Sarah. This obsession with modern racism is mostly a American thing. Racism has been around since the beginning of time,

      • Forebearance

        There was a time when the Catholic Church in alliance with the secular government of the day ruled there were witches & warlocks embedded in the human race. Shelves of thick volumes filled law libraries with “evidence” and “proof” that such creatures flew on broomsticks, sucked the breath out of newborn babies in their cribs and laid curses on unsuspecting spouses in their sleep. “Trials” were held presided over by the most learned & respected members of the profession to make the foregone convictions appear “legal”. The government and church of today have merely rejoined forces to stamp out any popular movement over which they have no control.

        • Silky Johnson

          Nice straw man. Did you learn that from a Jack T. Chick tract?

          • Shaune Scott

            Perfect response! Kudos!

          • G.

            LOL! Too funny! Thx for the laugh. 😀

  • Forebearance

    Divide-and-conquer has been used by ruling classes since Julius Caesar to retain their control once the majority of people have turned against them. Since the planned faux contest between Bush & Clinton cratered, they’re trying everything to divide the rest of the population against itself before November: race, transgender public restrooms, even — lol — the NFL. Mostly through these NGO’s funded by globalists like Soros.

  • daisy

    It’s 1960 forever for Bishop Gregory and that can’t be helped. The other bishops might do well to remember that the local Catholics who they constantly criticize are the ones who pay full tuition for the schools, pay for the heat and air in the parishes, and volunteer at the parish school. They are also the ones whose donations make the charity schools and free clinics possible. If you want a racial wake up go to the Spanish Mass and note the stares you get. At my parish they won’t even come in the building until the English speakers leave.

  • jbwilson24

    I had no idea the Catholic church was so deeply infested with Cultural Marxism. It’s almost like there is nothing of traditional Christian doctrine left at the policy level.

  • G.

    Why am I reminded of Saul Alinsky’s ” Rules for Radicals” and Progressive/Marxist/Socialist/ Communist/
    Fascist agendas!?!
    “Hillary Clinton blamed “systemic racism” in police departments:
    “Federal policing guidelines are needed because…”
    & “historian Josh Zeitz told USA Today that “the term law and order in modern American politics is, ipso facto, a racially tinged term”
    Hmmm… Now let’s see,
    They’ve already got the RIOTING IN THE STREETS thing down,…
    & soooo,…
    Socialist Clinton wants FEDERAL POLICING
    & some liberal “historian” tells a news-rag…
    In other words,…
    …Hmmm… What’s missing!?!…
    Now all they have to do is to get the good ministers and priests to push these & other ideas on their agenda,
    …in order to TAKE CONTROL.
    ‘ Remember how they pushed contraception by plying and softening the good ministers to push,…oops!..err…”explain” the “value” of contraception to their congregations!?
    Do they ever use $ in their convincing?!?
    What’s that in the news about evil anti-Catholic billionaire Soros offering $650,000 to the bishops to push an agenda…oops…err…to talk about the “wonderful practice” of allowing undocumented immigrant “refugees”, (aka illegal alien ISIS invaders), into the USA..?!?…
    Because of course, the rank and file ignoramous Catholic in the pews has to be taught about WWJD when it comes to
    welcoming the enemy bent on killing all Christians…oops…err…”welcoming the poor “refugees”” who seem to be almost all healthy young non-Christian men from the Middle East, where no other Middle East country will take them in, because they do not want to invite in ISIS and be killed!!!!
    …And of course, the out of touch Catholic in the pews doesn’t know anything about the raping and savage, barbarous mass killings done by some of those same “refugees”to Catholics and other Christians, including to priests and sisters!
    Now, we are called Racist!
    I think that the term “racist” in modern American politics is, ipso facto, a racially tinged term. Therefore, we should NEVER put up with being labeled by a racially tinged word!!! What a crazy world. Ludicrous!
    Please, pray for all of the bishops in the USA to do God’s will and ONLY God’s will.
    Thank you.
    God is NOT mocked.
    I pray that God exposes ALL of the evil doers.

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