Washington Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory delivers a Zoom address Feb. 3 on “Race and the Catholic Church” during a Black History Month event. CNS screen grab/Richard Szczepanowski

Reject racism, live how Creator intended: cardinal

By  Richard Szczepanowski, Catholic News Service
  • February 9, 2022

WASHINGTON -- People must “reject all forms of racism, bigotry and injustice” and recognize “we are each made by God and are deserving of respect and dignity because of just that,” said Washington Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory.

Only then will mankind “live the way we were intended to live by the Creator,” he said in a Black History Month address.

“We each are called to reach beyond ourselves — that which is comfortable and familiar. As a human family, we are to be a good neighbour to one another,” Gregory said. “This is the only way to bring about true justice for all American and global citizens.”

When Pope Francis appointed Gregory as Washington’s new archbishop in April 2019 and he was installed the next month, he became the archdiocese’s first African American archbishop. When he was made a cardinal Nov. 28, 2020, he became the nation’s first Black cardinal.

He spoke on “Race and the Catholic Church” for an event sponsored by the St. Thomas More Catholic Community at Yale University, delivered via Zoom because of the ongoing pandemic.

“I wish we were together in-person,” he said, because “I believe conversations about race are best had in-person so we can encounter one another as sisters and brothers created in the image and likeness of the Lord, the Creator of the human family.”

Lamenting that “racism, intolerance and discrimination come in a variety of forms — both overt and covert,” Gregory noted that when the faithful are open to racial diversity, “they see the inherent beauty of God’s creation in the mosaic of skin tones, facial expressions, cultures and ethnicities.”

He pointed out that “some of the very first Catholics (in the United States) included free Black Catholics, who arrived from Protestant England on the Eastern shores of Maryland in 1634,” but yet “in the Catholic Church, we do not have a story of unity or history of mutual respect.”

“We are a Church and a nation of immigrants who willingly or unwillingly fled to or were brought to these shores — some in chains and in bondage,” he said.

“Racism is sometimes seen as America’s original sin,” he continued, “and the reality of America’s original sin has denied or limited many African Americans from living out their calling to become full members of the Catholic Church as priests or religious and certainly, to fully attend or teach in higher education.”

Acknowledging “polarization both inside the Catholic Church and in our wider society,” Gregory said society is “experiencing a generally accepted, pervasive negative brashness.”

“There is often acceptance of openly, unapologetic racist language, hostility and consistently uncivil behaviour,” he said. “Civility is no longer a treasured American virtue we agree to live by. Civility does not come naturally to any of us, but it is a quality that can be cultivated. Civility, charity and service are needed in order for us to successfully work toward common ground that benefits all.”

During Black History Month, observed in February, and every month, he said, “we must work hard to practice civility in our challenging discussions about race and every other issue that touches our families and our communities.”

“The mission of the Catholic Church is to serve all of God’s children regardless of their ethnicity, culture, immigration status, race or religion,” he added.

Gregory spoke of how the Church can reconcile its past of racism, colonialism and slave ownership.

“We must admit our involvement and admit the sins we have shared in, maybe not personally, but we inherit the legacies that that sin has left in its wake,” he said.

“I am very, very proud of the Jesuits in the United States as they are coming to an acceptance and an understanding of their awful selling of slaves to keep Georgetown University and perhaps other Jesuit institutions afloat. They are expressing a contrition and a desire to do what is right. Reconciliation and retribution are very difficult, but they (the Jesuits) are willing to walk that path.”

With the Church currently hosting listening sessions on synodality in preparation for the October 2023 world Synod of bishops, the cardinal said now is the time “for us talk to one another and to listen to one another.”

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.