by Bill Scholl
As Catholics, we grapple with current events and the call to conversion from racism the U.S. bishops lay out in their 2018 pastoral letter “Open Wide Our Hearts” when they say: “What is needed . . . is a genuine conversion of heart, a conversion that will compel change, and reform our institutions and society” (p. 7).
They then identify the roadblock we each must overcome: “Racism can often be found in our hearts — in many cases placed there unwillingly or unknowingly by our upbringing and culture” (p. 5).
I have found that many good-hearted, white Catholics balk at the idea that they might have some racism hiding in their hearts. I myself confess I’ve been such a denier, once believing that racism was mostly in the rearview mirror of the American experience, until some Black Catholics showed me otherwise.
With regards to the sin of racism, if we are to progress as disciples of Jesus and as a society, we must come to the realization that the problem of racism is not so much overt as it was in the time of our grandparents, but covert and insidiously limiting our ability to see and love our neighbor.
The majority of white Americans don’t consciously hold racist beliefs and rightly disdain those who do. However, despite progress in dismantling racist systems in law and society, it would be naive to think that hundreds of years of systematic racism in this country did not leave a mark.
The church historian Hilaire Belloc observed that the spiritual and social effects of a heresy last long after the doctrinal error has been rejected.
We have rejected the doctrinal error that race is a morally relevant identifier of suitability, virtue and intelligence but the effects of the racist heresy still linger.
We must take notice when twice the number of Black babies die in the first year of their lives compared to white babies.
We need to ask why, in 2016, 33% of the sentenced prison population was Black while only 12% of the U.S. adult population was incarcerated.
We must take notice when there continues to be differences between Blacks and whites in pay, education, housing discrimination, mortgage lending and even continuing school segregation.
We must notice ourselves when we notice race and question our assumptions. We need to get comfortable with uncomfortable conversations and resist the urge to obfuscate with defensiveness.
As our Holy Father recently said: “We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.”
What is needed is a persistent examination of our conscience that searches for and challenges the hidden attitudes, prejudices and false beliefs that cause us to perceive racial difference as a sign of threat, inferiority or rejection.
Let us pray that we can forgive and seek forgiveness in ways that heal the trauma of our history, so that we may really live as one nation under God.