Leaders of the U.S. bishops’ conference responded to the killing of an African American man George Floyd in Minneapolis by stressing that the fight to eradicate racism is a pro-life issue.
“As bishops, we unequivocally state that racism is a life issue,” they said in a May 29 statement.
“Racism is not a thing of the past or simply a throwaway political issue to be bandied about when convenient. It is a real and present danger that must be met head on,” the bishops said.
“As members of the Church, we must stand for the more difficult right and just actions instead of the easy wrongs of indifference,” they said. “We cannot turn a blind eye to these atrocities and yet still try to profess to respect every human life.”
The statement was released by Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, chair of the U.S. bishops’ committee against racism; Archbishop Nelson Pérez of Philadelphia, chair of the cultural diversity committee; Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, head of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chair of the pro-life committee; Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton, head of the Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs; Auxiliary Bishop David O’Connell of Los Angeles, chair of the Subcommittee on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development; and Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry of Chicago, chair of the Subcommittee on African American Affairs.
The bishops responded to the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. Footage of the incident circulated widely on the internet. It showed Floyd, who is black, subdued and laying on his stomach, saying repeatedly, “I cannot breathe” and groaning as a police officer knelt on his neck for almost eight minutes, and other officers stood nearby and watched.
Floyd was taken to a local hospital, where he died shortly later. His death has prompted protests in numerous cities, including rioting and looting in some parts of Minneapolis.
After widespread protest, former police officer Derek Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter on May 29. The officers present at Floyd’s arrest were fired from the Minneapolis police force.
In their statement, the bishops said they were “broken-hearted, sickened, and outraged to watch another video of an African American man being killed before our very eyes.”
“What’s more astounding is that this is happening within mere weeks of several other such occurrences,” they said. “This is the latest wake-up call that needs to be answered by each of us in a spirit of determined conversion.”
The bishops called for non-violent protests, while acknowledging that people are understandably outraged.
“Too many communities around this country feel their voices are not being heard, their complaints about racist treatment are unheeded, and we are not doing enough to point out that this deadly treatment is antithetical to the Gospel of Life,” they said.
Catholics must fight indifference surrounding the issue of racism and speak up to fight it, the bishops said. They pointed to their most recent pastoral letter on racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts,” which calls for greater engagement on the issue.
The bishops encouraged Americans to encounter people of different cultural backgrounds and seek greater understanding and unity.
“Such encounters will start to bring about the needed transformation of our understanding of true life, charity, and justice in the United States,” they said.
Vatican Cardinal Peter Turkson on Wednesday June 3, decried the existence of racism around the world, urging people to seek justice and fraternity, and to forgive those who have hurt them or others.
Speaking to Vatican News June 3, from the Vatican City, the Ghanaian cardinal said racism was a widespread social phenomenon, and could be found not only in the United States but in many other parts of the world.
“For us as a Church, it goes against the basic thing we believe about the human person right from Creation. We are created in the image and likeness of God. Every person is imbued with human dignity that is precious in the sight of God, which doesn’t come from any human person,” he said.
The cardinal, who is the prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, spoke about justice as a “positive virtue.”
“Justice is actually the mending of relationships, the restoration of ties. In a situation like this, the cry for justice means the cry against what hurts brotherhood, what keeps brotherhood from happening,” he said.
“When we have situations that go radically against human dignity, that stymy it or kill it, it becomes a big source of concern,” he continued.
Turkson pointed out two examples of acts of injustice toward God and man which took place soon after creation.
“The first was disobedience of God’s word. The second was the killing of a brother,” he said, referencing Cain’s murder of his brother Abel. “The first instance of violence in the human person is the killing of a brother.”
In the face of racism, the Church must promote the dignity of the human person, Turkson said in the interview.
The cardinal also noted the Catholic Church’s praise for calls by George Floyd’s brother for non-violent civil action, and said: “I would add to the call of non-violence also the call to forgiveness. This, I think, is the way we can dignify the memory of George Floyd.”
The cardinal also urged bishops, priests, and other Catholic leaders in the United States to unite in prayer, especially in the many cities experiencing violence, proposing that they hold an ecumenical or interreligious prayer event in an open park.
“As a Catholic Church, that’s what we can do: pray for George now. And it would be great if there could be some organization of a big prayer event to bring people together,” he added. “It would give them the chance to express their pent-up anger, but in a way that is wholesome, in a way that is religious, in a way that is healing.”