A brief history of the Catholic Church’s fight against racism.
Catholic bishops from around the country recently condemned the white nationalism at rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia.
But what might be lesser known is that the Church has spoken out against racism through the centuries, and still calls for conversion from it.
“If we want a different kind of country in the future, we need to start today with a conversion in our own hearts, and an insistence on the same in others,” Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia said after the Charlottesville rallies.
White nationalists had held a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va. from Aug. 11-12, to protest the city’s planned removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
White supremacists from various extremist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis participated in torch-lit rallies on Friday night and a daytime rally on Saturday, chanting racist messages like “Jew will not replace us,” and “blood and soil,” a historically white supremacist slogan used by the Nazi Party in the days of Hitler.
A diverse coalition of counter-protesters, from religious leaders to members of “Black Lives Matter” to the anarchist group Antifa, formed around the white supremacist rally.
Violence broke out between the rally and the counter-protest, culminating with a 20 year-old man from Ohio driving a car into the counter-protest killing one woman and injuring 19. The man was eventually charged with second-degree murder.
In the wake of the racist rally, Catholic bishops spoke out against violence but also specifically condemned racism, including a joint statement by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Fla., chair of the bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, condemning “the evil of racism, white supremacy and neo-nazism.”
From the earliest days of the Church, Christian teaching has opposed the promotion of one person above another because of their genetic or ethnic background.
In his letter to the Galatians, Saint Paul wrote that “through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (3:26-28).”
As the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace explained in its 1988 document on racism, “The Church and Racism: Towards a More Fraternal Society,” early in the history of the Church, distinctions were made between people on basis of religion, not race.
That began to change with the discovery of the “New World,” the letter said, as nations colonizing the Americas tried to “justify” the killing and enslavement of indigenous peoples with a “racist theory.”
Pope Eugene IV issued a papal bull in 1435, Sicut Dudum, condemning the enslavement of African Christians in the Canary Islands, a year after his bull Creator Omnium threatened excommunication for those enslaving Christians. Thirty years later, in Regimini Gregis, Pope Sixtus IV excommunicated those aiding in the transport of Christian slaves from Africa.