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Black bishop warns of racial divide in American Church and society

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The racial divide in American society and within the Catholic Church must be bridged so that healing and progress can take place, said retired Bishop Edward K. Braxton of Belleville, Illinois.

“My hope is to inspire some people to make realistic efforts to bridge the racial divide. This can only happen through a deep inner conversion of hearts and minds,” Bishop Braxton said on October 8.

He made the comments in a speech titled “The Catholic Church and the Racial Divide in the United States” for the Department of African Studies Symposium on Black Church Studies at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. .

“It is a high and distant goal,” he added.

His speech took place at the 31st annual meeting of the Black Catholic Theological Symposium October 7-9 at the university.

Bishop Braxton said he preferred to use the term “racial divide” as a broad description, from which he singled out racism as “the most damning and blatant example”.

Father, does the Catholic Church believe that only whites are in Heaven? Why are they all pictured with blonde hair, blue eyes, and rosy cheeks?

The racial division, he said, began with slavery “to provide free workers … by working like beasts of burden” on the plantations. The divide, Bishop Braxton added, includes time in United States history spanning the Civil War, “the era of the lost cause” and the Dred Scott decision.

“This Dred Scott opinion was written by Chief Justice Roger Taney, himself a Catholic who possessed free enslaved human beings,” Bishop Braxton said. “Taney didn’t let his faith in Jesus Christ open his eyes.”

This continued, he said, with “the Jim Crow laws, the frequent lynching of African-American men, women and children” as well as “the cruel murder of Emmett Till, the murder of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., and now that we reflect on the death of George Floyd and so many African Americans since him on behalf of law enforcement. “

Bishop Braxton said the Catholic Church and its institutions “have helped perpetuate this division.”

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He remembers a time when he, still a priest in Chicago, took a group of non-Catholic black schoolchildren to a Catholic church.

Typical of the questions asked of him that day, he said, were “Father, does the Catholic Church believe that only white people are in Heaven?” “Why are they all pictured with blond hair, blue eyes and rosy cheeks?” And “Why aren’t there black, Asian or Latino saints in the windows of this church?”

Doing something about the “invisibility of color” in religious art could be “a small step that could bridge the racial divide,” Bishop Braxton said. “Wouldn’t Catholics find this a welcome change, or would they oppose it,” he said, and they would stop giving money to the Church.

Acknowledging that the Church “has been largely on the wrong side of history since the start of the racial divide,” Bishop Braxton said, “does not lead to the conclusion that all Catholics are inherently racist.”

It takes thought and conversation to begin the conversion process, he noted – something a speaker overlooked on the subject he remembers hearing years ago.

“The first words that came out of his mouth were, ‘Whether you know it or not, you are all white racists.’ The possibility of a dialogue stopped there “, declared Bishop Braxton.

Americans in general are also unable to delve deeper into the racial divide and its effects, using the subject of reparations as an example.

Bishop Braxton cited a House bill to create a commission to explore the possibility of reparations. “What would be the appropriate remedies for slavery?” Money? To whom, from whom? he asked out loud. “Most Americans don’t support the idea of ​​repairs, period.”

He said in a poll that 59% of black Americans favored cash payments as reparations, but only 6% of whites did; 63% of blacks support education and vocational training as a form of redress, compared to 19% of whites who support it.

“Reparation means repair – the healing of what has been broken,” said Bishop Braxton. “A structure has been broken at the foundation and it cannot stand unless it is repaired.”

Descendants of enslaved people who belonged to the Jesuits and Georgetown University in Washington have been in talks with the university

While some have offered a price of $ 500 billion for repairs, he compared it to the $ 6 trillion spent “on wars since 2001 alone”.

Redress, he added, “requires that we recognize the racial division between us.”

Bishop Braxton noted during his speech that the American bishops had never made a statement on reparations, and said in response to a question posed after his remarks that they had not mentioned it in their pastoral letter 2018 anti-racist, “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Permanent Call for Love.”

“A public declaration of the bishops can only be published with the consensus of nearly 300 bishops,” he said. “An individual bishop can ‘approach a problem -‘ and I wouldn’t be surprised if he wrote about it,” he continued, “but from the perspective of a large church community like the Catholic Church , the subject is not ripe for the bishops to make a useful comment on this subject. “

“Someone could be prophetic,” he added.

It is possible that religious organizations are taking the first “small steps” towards reparations, Bishop Braxton said, citing a $ 1.7 million reparations fund established by the Virginia Theological Seminary.

In the American Catholic Church, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Louisiana began to work to repair their role in slavery. To be “once owned by Catholic nuns – wrap your hands around that,” Bishop Braxton said.

Descendants of enslaved people who belonged to the Jesuits and Georgetown University in Washington are in talks with the university about how it can provide redress.

“Some descendants have requested a billion dollar fund to meet education, housing and health needs,” the bishop said, although the university did not respond to the request.

“This has the potential to be resolved to some extent,” he said. “When and to what extent, who knows.”

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