BALTIMORE — The U.S. bishops overwhelmingly approved a pastoral letter against racism Nov. 14 after a 241-3 vote, with one abstention, at their annual fall general meeting.
The pastoral letter, “The Enduring Call to Love: A Pastoral Letter Against Racism,” has been in the works for four years, though its issuance was put on the front burner following the September 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va.
Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church, said all standing committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops collaborated on the document.
“Open Wide our Hearts’ conveys the bishops’ grave concern about the rise of racist attitudes in society,” said Bishop Sheldon T. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, La., chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee on African American Affairs. He also chairs the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism.
It also “offers practical suggestions for individuals, families and communities,” Bishop Fabre said.
“Despite many promising strides made in our country, the ugly cancer of racism still infects our nation,” the pastoral letter states. “Racist acts are sinful because they violate justice. They reveal a failure to acknowledge the human dignity of the persons offended, to recognize them as the neighbors Christ calls us to love.”
“Every racist act — every such comment, every joke, every disparaging look as a reaction to the color of skin, ethnicity or place of origin — is a failure to acknowledge another person as a brother or sister, created in the image of God.”
“Personal sin is freely chosen,” a notion that would seem to include racism, said retired Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, N.M., but “social sin is collective blindness. There is sin as deed and sin as illness. It’s a pervasive illness that runs through a culture.” Bishop Fabre responded that the letter refers to institutional and structural racism.
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory of Beaumont, Texas, said the pastoral “gives us a wonderful opportunity to educate, to convert,” adding that, given recent incidents, the document should give “consideration to our Jewish brothers and sisters.” Bishop Fabre said that while anti-Semitism is mentioned in the document, future materials will focus on anti-Semitism.
The rollout of the pastoral was the chief concern of Bishop Christopher J. Coyne of Burlington, Vt. “We do this great work,” he said, and it should be shaped to fit “multiple formats,” including short videos, digital media, religious education and adult education. Although “we’re getting better at it,” he added, all too often “we do these documents, and they sit on a shelf.”
Bishop Fabre allayed his concerns. “We do have lesson plans ready to go, from kindergarten to high school,” he said.
The text of the pastoral letter will be posted later at
At the assembly, bishops voted on chairman or chairmen-elect for several committees and treasurer-elect.
• USCCB Treasurer: Bishop Gregory L. Parkes of St. Petersburg, Fla.
• Committee on National Collections: Archbishop Paul D. Etienne of Anchorage, Alaska, over Bishop Thomas A. Daly of Spokane, Wash., 137-111. Archbishop Etienne replaces Bishop Joseph R. Cistone, who died Oct. 16, as chairman.
• Committee on Catholic Education: Bishop Michael C. Barber of Oakland, Calif., over Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, Ill., 142-103.
• Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations: Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen, N.J., over Bishop Michael F. Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, 168-77.
• Committee on Divine Worship: Archbishop Leonard P. Blair of Hartford, Conn., over Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay, Wis., 132-113.
• Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development: Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City over Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, N.M., 140-105.
• Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth: Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco over Bishop John F. Doerfler of Marquette, Mich.. The vote finished in a tie at 125 votes each, but Archbishop Cordileone became the chairman because he has been a bishop longer.
• Committee on Migration: Auxiliary Bishop Marie E. Dorsonville-Rodriguez of Washington, over Bishop John E. Stowe of Lexington, Ky., 158-88