Across the country, protestors have in recent days toppled statutes of Confederate leaders and figures associated with slavery, but have also, in some places, pulled down statues of Catholic saints, abolitionists, and other figures.
The violence in Madison reached a fever pitch Tuesday night when protestors attacked and injured State Senator Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) near the Wisconsin state capitol, ostensibly because Carpenter was filming the protests with his phone.
Speaking to CNA on Tuesday, Hying emphasized that many of the most successful protests of the Civil Rights era were predicated on Christian ideas of nonviolence, and a Scriptural understanding of the human person.
The principles of Catholic social teaching- the dignity of the human person; the value of solidarity, "we're all in this together;" a preferential option for the poor- need to be present in any Catholic's response to injustice, he said.
"If it's not grounded in that, then it really ends up being about power- that I need to assert my power, in situations where I feel powerless," he explained.
"It becomes a struggle over power, rather than a transformational relationship into how God wants us to live as brothers and sisters."
Some Catholic figures on social media have called for bishops to attend the rallies in their cities and physically prevent rioters from tearing down statues.
Hying said anything a bishop does in public must be rooted in a "prayerful, spiritual response," and not in any political motivation.
Any political movement that does not recognize the dignity of every person is prone to "power politics" and violence, Hying said.
"I think our presence always needs to be related to a prayerful presence. If we're going to be somewhere publicly, I don't think it's in a rally context, I don't think it's in a political context...it has to be a context of prayer. Otherwise I think it can get co-opted by the politics of the moment."
Many Catholics and even some bishops have attended and prayed at peaceful rallies across the country.
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Hying said it is clear to him that the violence and ill-treatment of Native Americans and the oppression of African Americans through slavery are two of the country's greatest moral failings.
The situation requires, he wrote in his letter, better knowledge of history and respectful discussions about statues, buildings, and memorials.
"We must study and know this history in order to transcend it, to learn from it and to commit ourselves to justice, equality, and solidarity because of it," Hying said.
"At the same time, even the worst aspects of history should be remembered and kept before our eyes. Auschwitz remains open as both a memorial and a museum, so that humanity never forgets the horror of the Holocaust."
Protestors in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park tore down a statue of St. Junipero Serra on June 20, along with statues of Francis Scott Key and Ulysses S. Grant. In Los Angeles the same day, rioters pulled down a statue of Serra in the city's downtown.
While many activists today associate Serra with the abuses that the Native Americans suffered, biographies and historical records suggest that Serra actually advocated on behalf of the Natives against the Spanish military and against encroaching European settlement.