The Catholic response to racism must be rooted in recognizing the dignity of every person made in the image of God, said
several panelists who participated in an online discussion June 24.
Hosted by the archdiocesan Office of Young Adult Ministry, the discussion provided a place for dialogue and teaching, and addressed some of the questions and concerns that Catholics have raised since the death of George Floyd.
The online discussion included Archbishop Robert J. Carlson; Joyce Jones, program director of Racial Harmony for the Archdiocese; Father Matthew Baugh, SJ, a Jesuit Fellow with the Catholic Studies Centre at Saint Louis University; and Dr. Michael Meehan, a licensed psychologist and executive director of Good Shepherd Children and Family Services. Angela Richard, coordinator of Young Adult Ministry, facilitated the conversation, posing questions that were submitted in advance.
“Racism is something that touches us all, but we don’t like to talk about it,” Archbishop Carlson said. Referring to a line from Psalm 139, “you formed my inmost being; you knit me
in my mother’s womb,” the archbishop said there is a very close relationship between human life and God. “That should be reflected in the things we do and say,” he said.
The Church has a strong and clear stand on issues such as abortion, he said, but there are other issues important to the Church that don’t seem to receive as much attention, such as racism and gun violence. What also is sometimes lost, he said, are the efforts of the Church to combat issues such as poverty. The archbishop cited examples such as the work of Catholic Charities of St. Louis, scholarships to attend Catholic schools through the Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation, health care to the uninsured poor through the Rural Parish Clinic, and affordable housing via the St. Joseph Housing Initiative.
“We’re not just saving life at birth, but saving life at every stage,” he said.
One of the questions panelists received was how to support the good aspects of recent protests, while not specifically supporting organizations such as the Black Lives Matter Foundation Inc. that hold positions contrary to Catholic teaching.
Catholics must view everything as an opportunity to bring a person to Christ, Joyce Jones responded, adding that it is
possible to walk hand in hand with someone who doesn’t share the same views on everything. “We educate ourselves, and then hold fast to those (Catholic) beliefs when we are challenged,” she said. Jones also noted that people should distinguish the difference between Black Lives Matter as an organization/movement and the phrase “Black lives matter.”
Father Baugh said that too many people are afraid to speak up on issues that matter, for fear of being labeled as being on one side or another. “We have to get comfortable with agreeing with people on things, and disagreeing in a way that shows respect. I encourage young people to not fall into the trap of thinking it’s all or nothing.”
Catholics also have to be willing to enter into dialogue and listen to those who are hurting, Archbishop Carlson said. “If people feel unfairly treated, we have to enter that dialogue and learn … We don’t need to justify violence or looting, but don’t waste this opportunity. We need to listen and learn.”
Another question asked was whether the Church is picking and choosing what deaths matter, and a perception that not much is being said about Black on Black crime. Meehan of Good Shepherd Children & Family Services said that “grieving and being outraged over Floyd’s death is not to say other murders aren’t tragic, too. But this is a different issue that calls for a different answer. … When those who have been entrusted to enforce the social contract are the ones breaking it, then we have something fundamentally wrong.”