WASHINGTON (CNS) — Saying there
is an “urgent need” to address “the sin of racism” in the
country and find solutions to it, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has established
a new Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism and named one of the country’s
African-American Catholic bishops to chair it.
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of
Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, initiated the committee Aug. 23 “to
focus on addressing the sin of racism in our society, and even in our church,
and the urgent need to come together as a society to find solutions.”
He appointed Bishop George V.
Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Catholic Education,
to chair the new ad hoc committee.
“Recent events have exposed the
extent to which the sin of racism continues to afflict our nation,”
Cardinal DiNardo said in a statement. “The establishment of this new ad
hoc committee will be wholly dedicated to engaging the church and our society
to work together in unity to challenge the sin of racism, to listen to persons
who are suffering under this sin, and to come together in the love of Christ to
know one another as brothers and sisters.”
The naming of members to serve
on the new body will be finalized in coming days, the USCCB said in an
announcement. It added that the committee’s mandate “will be confirmed at
the first meeting, expected very shortly.”
“I look forward to working with
my brother bishops as well as communities across the United States to listen to
the needs of individuals who have suffered under the sin of racism and together
find solutions to this epidemic of hate that has plagued our nation for far too
long,” Bishop Murry said in a statement.
“Through Jesus’ example of love
and mercy, we are called to be a better people than what we have witnessed over
the past weeks and months as a nation. Through listening, prayer and meaningful
collaboration, I’m hopeful we can find lasting solutions and common ground
where racism will no longer find a place in our hearts or in our society.”
The new ad hoc committee also
will “welcome and support” implementation of the U.S. bishops’ new
pastoral letter on racism, expected to be released in 2018. In 1979, the
bishops issued a pastoral in racism titled “Brothers and Sisters to Us,” in which they addressed many
themes, but the overall message then as today was “racism is a sin.”
Creation of a new formal body
that is part of the USCCB — formed on the USCCB Executive Committee’s “unanimous
recommendation” — speaks to how serious the U.S. Catholic Church leaders take
the problem of racism in America today.
It is the first ad hoc
committee the bishops have established since instituting the Ad Hoc Committee
for Religious Liberty in 2011 to address growing concerns over the erosion of
freedom of religion in America. The federal governments mandate that all
employers, including religious employers provide health care coverage of
artificial contraceptives and abortifacients was one of the key issues that
prompted formation of the committee.
Chaired by Baltimore Archbishop
William E. Lori, that body was elevated to full USCCB committee status during
the bishops’ spring assembly in Indianapolis this past June.
In addition to the
Executive Committee’s recommendation, the USCCB said, the decision to initiate
the new Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism also was made in consultation with
members of the USCCB’s Committee on Priorities and Plans.
The formation of the ad
hoc committee also follows the conclusion of the work of the Peace in Our
Communities Task Force. The task force was formed in July 2016 by then-Archbishop
Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, who was then USCCB president. He
initiated it in response to racially related shootings in Baton Rouge,
Louisiana, as well as in Minneapolis and Dallas.
To head it he named Archbishop
Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta, one of the nation’s African-American prelates who
was the first black Catholic bishop to be president of the USCCB (2001-2004).
The task force’s mandate was to explore
ways of promoting peace and healing around the country. Archbishop Kurtz also
wanted the bishops to look for ways they could help the suffering communities,
as well as police affected by the incidents.
On Nov. 14, 2016, during the USCCB’s
fall general assembly, Archbishop Gregory told the bishops to issue, sooner
rather than later, a document on racism.
“A statement from
the full body of bishops on racism is increasingly important at this
time,” said the archbishop in reporting on the work of the task force.
He said the president of
the bishops’ conference and relevant committees need to “identify
opportunities for a shorter-term statement on these issues, particularly in the
context of the postelection uncertainty and disaffection.”
He also urged prayer,
ecumenical and interfaith collaboration, dialogue, parish-based and diocesan
conversations and training, as well as opportunities for encounter.
The bishops’ 1979 pastoral, now
in its 19th printing, declared: “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
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