The committee is also working on plans for a national convocation early next year, as well as a series of listening sessions and dialogues across the country, which Murry described as key to the group’s work.
These listening sessions, he said, will seek to “hear the voices of people suffering as a result of racism,” explore the causes and effects of racism in the United States.
Looking forward, the committee will also be working to promote education, resources, communications strategies, public policy advocacy and care for victims.
Bishop Murry emphasized the importance of the committee’s work.
“Some people think that there is no need to confront racism, or that we should confront it only in private,” he said.
However, he continued, “to confront racism is essential – in fact, necessary – because the Gospel calls us to work for justice, and racism denies just to people simply because of their race.”
And public displays of racism – such as those seen in Charlottesville in August – require a public response, from society and from the Church, he said.
In a discussion following Murry’s presentation, the bishops shared their observations and experiences of working to fight racism.
Several bishops noted the need for symbolic actions, which can be powerful in changing minds and hearts.
They observed the intersection of social class and racial divisions, as well as the need to understand how racist ideas are spread, particularly on social media and among young people.
Addressing the question of whether racist speech is constitutionally protected, Bishop Murry suggested that the question is ultimately one of people’s desires, rather than legality.
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The goal is conversion, he said, changing hearts so that people do not want to say racist things, even if doing so would be protected under the Constitution.
Protecting free speech is critical, added Archbishop Thomas Rodi of Mobile, Ala., because some people who object to the teachings of the Catholic Church accuse the bishops of “hate speech.”
While racism is a topic that many people find uncomfortable, the problem will only be overcome if opportunities are created for discussions to take place, the bishops observed.
Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham, Ala., stressed the importance of the personal involvement of the bishops in fighting the scourge of racism. He said that he has found great success in leading listening sessions in his diocese, and has found a strong level of receptivity from his people.
Bishop Baker also stressed that people are open to addressing the issue, and that this is the “prime time” to do so, in a way that would not have been possible 50 or even 20 years ago.
The next challenge, Archbishop Rodi suggested, is finding a way to reach more people, since those who are willing to attend listening sessions are likely already willing to dialogue on the issue.