Washington D.C., Nov 1, 2017 / 14:00 pm
In a new pastoral letter on racism, the Archbishop of Washington has encouraged Catholics to recognize the dignity of every human person, and to address the challenges – both subtle and obvious – posed to that dignity by various kinds of racism and discrimination in the United States.
The Catholic Church has a very important role in speaking out on racism – particularly within the Archdiocese of Washington, explained Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, in an interview with CNA. “As I say in the letter, it falls to the Church to be the conscience of the nation. That’s our task.”
“When it comes to something as critical as what’s happening in the area of racism, we all agree that our people, our priests, should give some sort of spiritual and pastoral leadership.”
The process of writing the letter, titled “The Challenge of Racism Today” began years ago, after an archdiocesan synod identified racism and diversity as priorities to be addressed by the archdiocese, Wuerl told CNA. Prominent instances of racial discrimination over the past several years, in addition to movement by the U.S. bishops to address racism around the country, demonstrated the need to issue a pastoral letter addressing the issue for the archdiocese, he said. The letter is addressed to the clergy, religious, and laity of the Archdiocese of Washington.
In August, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops formed an Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism in order to confront racism around the nation, following violence in Charlottesville, Va. The bishops last issued a collective pastoral reflection on racism in 1979, “Brothers and Sisters to Us.”
In his letter, Wuerl pointed to both “subtle” and “obvious forms of racism, and called on Catholics to recognize all forms of racism and discrimination operative in American communities. He noted that while racism is a complex social problem, “there is something we can do about it even if we realize that what we say and the steps we take will not result in an immediate solution to a problem that spans generations.” Wuerl especially encouraged Catholics to know that there are steps they personally can take to mitigate racism.
Wuerl pointed out that the United States has experienced “exploitation and oppression of indigenous peoples, Asians, Latinos, Japanese-Americans and others, including people from various parts of Europe,” but noted that African-Americans have faced the most racial discrimination in American history. “In our homeland, the most profound and extensive evidence of racism lies in the sin of centuries of human trafficking, enslavement, segregation and the lingering effects experienced by African-American men, women and children,” he wrote.
Discrimination continues today through “ignorance,” the “silent support of other expressions of discrimination” within some sectors of society, and a lack of interaction with those from other backgrounds.
He wrote that racial prejudice is “a hindrance to unity and a heavy burden for some to bear. The pain it causes in people’s lives is very real.”