Thursday, September 17, 2009

On Race... and "Racism"

These days, sad to say, it doesn't take much looking around to find charges of racism being hurled about in the heat of the current political discourse.

While that's unfortunately nothing new among the fray, it becomes news on this beat when it's named and claimed by a bishop... and, well, that's exactly what happened last week in (of all places) this very River City, as Bishop Terry Steib SVD of Memphis (above) addressed a local celebration for the silver anniversary of "What We Have Seen and Heard" -- the 1984 national pastoral issued by the African-American bishops.

From the Venerable Weekly:
The main thrust of the pastoral was evangelization, Bishop Steib emphasized. “The Catholic Church is universal, there is room in the sanctuary for everybody, and it is our responsibility to work within our community and lead others to our faith which we believe in,” he said. “That’s what evangelization is all about.”

The relative dearth of black Catholic leadership in the Church at the time the pastoral was issued was due to “subtle racism,” he charged.

Since that time tremendous strides have been made, and he cited the election of Barack Obama as president as an example.

“Most of us probably believed that would never happen in our lifetimes,” he said. “To say the world has not changed is to dishonor all of those who fought the battles for us.”

Some racism still exists, he said, and cited the recent furor in Catholic circles over the honorary degree awarded by Notre Dame University to Obama, who supports abortion on demand.

Other presidents have had disagreements with the positions of the Catholic Church, for example, in war policies and capital punishment, but have received honorary degrees without similar objection, he noted.

It is the subtle racism that still exists which contributes to the lack of priestly vocations among young black men because “it leads to a mistrust of the Church among young black men and women,” he said. “Let’s acknowledge that.”
In a May column for his diocesan journal, Steib -- whose pre-election pastoral last year pointedly said both that Catholics "cannot be a one-issue people" and "that different people may in good conscience arrive at different decisions about how they will vote" -- wrote that while "there is no doubt in my mind that as Catholics we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, I do question, however, whether we always love one another," continuing as follows:
"Was it love for one another that led us to the current economic struggles? Or were too many people blinded by greed? Is it love for one another that causes those who are opposed to abortion to put anyone who disagrees with their position into the camp of those who are universally bringing about 'a culture of death?' Is it love for one another that causes some among us to wish that President Obama will fail when we are as a nation struggling with two wars and the worst economic conditions in our country in fifty years? If we truly love one another, and live together as Church under grace, then we will look for ways to bring about a civil respect and caring concern for one another and especially for those who disagree with us."
Head of the 70,000-member Memphis church since 1993, Steib's charge now has 25 seminarians, the largest formation class in its history and, per capita, the highest ratio of any diocese nationwide. Ordained an auxiliary bishop of St Louis in 1984, the 69 year-old prelate serves as the convener of the nation's 16 Black bishops.

In the latest development springing from Obama's appearance at Notre Dame, university president Fr John Jenkins CSC announced yesterday that he would lead the Domer delegation to January's March for Life in Washington and had empaneled a task force to seek "ways in which the University, informed by Catholic teaching, can support the sanctity of life."

The May commencement "generated passionate discussion and also caused some divisions in the Notre Dame community," Jenkins wrote.

"Regardless of what you think about that event, I hope that we can overcome divisions to foster constructive dialogue and work together for a cause that is at the heart of Notre Dame’s mission."