|| Call to end sin of
By ROBERT J. McCLORY
Racism thrives, declared the six Illinois Catholic bishops in the first pastoral letter ever issued by the states hierarchy. They urged Catholics to unite in pledging, We will not live with the sin of racism any longer.
But the brief, 1,400-word statement was immediately criticized by some black Catholics as flimsy and lacking in substance. This document has as much meat as a slab of ribs eaten by 100 hungry people, said Ralph Shaw, a Chicago permanent deacon and co-publisher of Deliverance, a newsletter on African-American Catholic issues.
The bishops letter, titled Moving Beyond Racism: Learning to see with the eyes of Christ, (signed by the 14 Illinois bishops including the states eight auxiliary bishops) cited the dragging death of an African-American in Texas and the sexual assault on a Haitian prisoner by Brooklyn police as examples of extreme racism. It also noted more subtle forms of racist action: realtors who steer clients along racial lines, police who routinely profile black drivers for checks, parents who drive by excellent schools with substantial black enrollment to register their children at all-white facilities.
At a news conference at a Chicago west side Catholic parish, Cardinal Francis George said the letter has been in preparation since 1994, but he noted, The bishops are sometimes slow to get their act together. His words were well chosen, since the letter was presented on April 3, the eve of the 32nd anniversary of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The remedies proposed in the letter were modest: People should pray for an end to racism, get to know people of another race, refuse to use biased language, teach toleration to children, elect public officials who work for racial justice, avoid investment in companies that support racist policies and ask media people to publicize good people and actions in every racial group.
Belleville Bishop Wilton Gregory, an African-American and the vice president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, told NCR the recommendations were simple and the document purposely brief so it could get to the heart of people in the pew. The average person wont read a long letter, he explained. We want people to read this one.
Said Shaw, who facilitated a retreat for Chicagos black deacons last year, Weve been through all this for years, and theres nothing here in this letter. Racism is more than just another problem, and it takes more than a feather to put a dent in steel.
Another Chicago activist, Sheila Bourelly, said whats needed is a plan of action on racism at the archdiocesan level. We dont see any changes downtown, she said. If all your advisers are white, nothing important is going to happen.
Meanwhile, the Chicago archdiocese announced that a Black Catholic Convocation of leaders, more than a year in planning, would be held next Nov. 3 and 4 at Chicagos Loyola University. The city will also host the next National Black Catholic Congress in 2002.
National Catholic Reporter, April 14, 2000