Religious orders owning slaves isn’t new—black Catholics have emphasized this history for years

A photo of the late Benedictine Father Cyprian Davis, a renowned chronicler of black Catholic history, is seen July 31 in the center of the altar at St. Katharine Drexel Chapel of Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans surrounded by pictures of four candidates for sainthood. (CNS photo/Christine Bordelon, Clarion Herald) 

Recent stories in The New York Times and The Washington Post have once again turned the spotlight on the Catholic Church’s long and largely unreconciled history of slavery in the United States. This time, the focus has shifted to the nation’s communities of nuns.

Over the past few years, an increasing number of Catholic orders with roots in the pre–Civil War United States have begun to take concrete steps to confront and atone for their complicity and agency in the history of chattel slavery. In fact, their efforts represent a larger story of white orders reckoning with their longstanding histories of anti-black racism.

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As a historian, I am always happy when more Americans, especially Catholics, become aware of the church’s history as the first and largest corporate slaveholder in the Americas. I suspect minds will be blown again when more people become aware of Pope Nicholas V’s 1452 papal bull “Dum Diversas,” which authorized the European invasion of Africa, Asia and the Americas, and sanctioned perpetual enslavement.

An increasing number of Catholic orders with roots in the pre–Civil War United States have begun to take concrete steps to confront and atone for their complicity and agency in the history of chattel slavery.

However, I am deeply concerned about the current conversation and its erasure of the decades-long struggle waged by black Catholics and scholars of the black Catholic experience to bring the church’s painful history of slavery and segregation to light.

The evidence of slaveholding among nuns is not new knowledge to historians of slavery and the American church—and it is not new to many black Catholics.

For decades, black Catholics have been at the forefront of the fight calling for the church to confront its racist past. Descendants of the church’s enslaved communities who remained Catholic have led the way. Over the years, they and others have published hundreds of articles, including in the pages of America, and delivered even more talks to Catholic audiences in a clear and concerted effort to ensure that the foundational presence of black people in the church is not erased or forgotten.

The Black Catholic Theological Symposium, the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana and several black Catholic archives also have been instrumental in the preservation of this history and the establishment of the field of black Catholic studies. These institutions have supported the pioneering scholarship of Father Cyprian Davis, Diane Batts Morrow, Bryan Massingale and many other scholars of the black Catholic experience.

Unsurprisingly, an essential part of the more recent black Catholic struggle for justice has been calling upon Catholic leaders, especially religious orders of men and women, to grant access to sealed archival records that document the church’s history of slavery and segregation.

The evidence of slaveholding among nuns is not new knowledge to historians of slavery and the American church—and it is not new to many black Catholics.

For decades, black Catholics with roots in New Orleans asked the archdiocese to make the baptismal and confirmation records of their enslaved ancestors accessible so they could conduct genealogical work. The archdiocese had previously published 17 volumes of its sacramental records for free people. However, it had not published those for persons recorded without surnames—i.e., thousands of the church’s enslaved people. In a historic move in 2011, under the direction of Archbishop Gregory Aymond, the archdiocese digitized thousands of the church’s early sacramental records in an effort to begin to right this wrong.

Black Catholics also have been at the forefront of the push to get the Vatican to confront the church’s racist past and present. In 1987, Pope John Paul II famously assailed American racism and the economic plight of black Americans following a special meeting with black Catholics during his visit to the United States. In 2016, many of the same black Catholics and others formally called upon Pope Francis to apologize for slavery. They are also leading the push to have five black American Catholics, including three black nuns and one ex-slave priest, Augustus Tolton, canonized in the church. Just two months ago, the sainthood cause for Father Tolton, who was the first black U.S. priest, advanced in Rome with Pope Francis elevating him to the status of “venerable.” Born into Catholic slavery in Missouri, Tolton is one of the scores of black pioneering priests and sisters in the United States who can trace their lineage to the earliest days of the American church and the enslaved people who built it.

Three white Catholic orders of nuns in Kentucky formally apologized for their slaveholding pasts and began taking steps to atone for it 16 years before The New York Timesstory about Georgetown broke.

There are also many black Catholics who can trace their lineage to the nation’s founding slaveholding European Catholic families. These include the Carrolls of Maryland, who gave the nation its only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence and first Catholic bishop; the Spaldings of Kentucky, who gave the U.S. church two of its pioneer bishops in Maryland and Kentucky and women congregational leaders in Kentucky; and the Pintados, who surveyed much of the land area of Spanish Florida and Louisiana.

I do not deny that there are many black Catholics, like most people, who are unaware of the church’s history of slavery and segregation. I was certainly one of them before I entered graduate school. However, it is deeply disappointing that the Times and Post articles omitted, or simply overlooked, the political and intellectual work of black Catholics and other scholars of the black Catholic experience. This history, as well as reporting on related activism, is a Google search away. Moreover, scholars like Matthew Cressler have been directing public conversations on the history of black Catholics in the United States on Twitter for the past several years.

Indeed, one of the most frustrating aspects of this entire episode is the fact that so much misinformation is now being spread online because the work of black Catholic history is simply not being consulted. One tweet responding to the Washington Poststory, which has received over 1,000 shares, for example, is filled with historical inaccuracies about the nation’s second successful community of African-American nuns.

Because so much of this history has been suppressed or misrepresented, accuracy is essential in these kinds of conversations. So, for the record, the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the nation’s and the modern world’s first successful Roman Catholic order of black nuns, are the only non-slaveholding U.S. order of sisters known to have educated enslaved people. Unlike their white counterparts and the historically Afro-Creole Sisters of the Holy Family in New Orleans, the Oblates never employed any admission restrictions based on race, color, class, ethnicity or previous status. Prior to the Civil War, the Oblates admitted at least 10 formerly enslaved women into their ranks. In the case of the Sisters of the Holy Family, the order (which briefly owned a small number of enslaved persons prior to the Civil War) did educate enslaved children. But they educated them on a segregated basis with free Afro-Creole children. The Holy Family sisters also briefly split apart after the admission of the order’s first formerly enslaved member in 1867, with the majority of the Afro-Creole sisters voting against her entry. This information is published and available.

It also is important to note that three white Catholic orders of nuns in Kentucky formally apologized for their slaveholding pasts and began taking steps to atone for it 16 years before The New York Times story about Georgetown broke. So, while the current reckoning among other orders is important, it is not without significant precedent.

If this nation is ever going to fully confront, let alone make reparation, for its foundational sin of anti-black racism and slavery, the reckoning currently underway in the Catholic Church is a necessary step forward. As such, I pray that it not only continues but also expands to every corner of the church. It is equally imperative, however, that we remember that the current moment is not the result of one archivist’s or one journalist’s discovery of this shameful history a few years ago. It is the result of a persistent and costly struggle that has been waged by the descendants of the enslaved people who built the church, and a host of archivists and scholars of the black Catholic experience, who have been fighting to preserve and disseminate this history for decades.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
J Cosgrove
2 weeks 3 days ago

The Church had a policy of suppression of humans for centuries not just slaves but their own people wherever they were. It was called the “Great Chain of Being.” This policy was essentially how the whole world not just Catholics lived for most of history. We get on our high horses these days and lecture how everyone should have lived in the past.

J Cosgrove
2 weeks 3 days ago

This all changed in England and Holland due to religious wars starting in the late 1500’s and eventually after a hundred and fifty years the common man in these countries became free. It took longer for the rest of the world but happened as they saw common people in England and Holland becoming prosperous.

J Cosgrove
2 weeks 3 days ago

Even the English and Dutch had slaves but they were instrumental in ridding the policy from most of the world.

Mister Mckee
2 weeks 3 days ago

Anxiously awaiting Dr. Williams new book!
In the meantime,
http://learn.ctu.edu/williams

Antony P.
2 weeks 3 days ago

As a historian, the author should know that Pope Nicholas V’s 1452 papal bull “Dum Diversas,” was addressing the threat posed by Muslim expansion into and invasion of Europe, more exactly, of the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal). Reading and interpreting texts out of contexts is dangerous business ... especially if done by a professional...

Adeolu Ademoyo
2 weeks 3 days ago

In reasoning people sometimes use the fallacy of Tu quoque to either discredit, water down or dilute the argument of the other person. The fallacy is that “oh you are guilty of the same thing, or everyone is guilty of the thing you are accusing someone of therefore you are wrong.” This is nothing but fallacious reasoning, a dubious and morally problematic intellectual move.

Since some of our racist politicians have enabled racism in the country, some have tried to divert attention, water down, dilute and discredit the argument of those who call our attention to this historic evil. Dr. Williams raised the historic fact of some Catholic religious orders owning slaves who were of African descent and how black Catholics have emphasized this evil. In a fallacious move, to water down Dr. Williams’ point some jumped up and asserted that slavery is part of human history! Is that the point in Dr. Williams’ essay? No! That is not the point.

I am a Catholic and Dr. Williams is correct in centering the fact that Black Catholics had always documented the fact that the Catholic Church and religious orders within the Church owned enslaved blacks. Therefore, it is hypocritical, fallacious and intellectually dubious and un-ethical to use the fallacy of tu quoque to divert our attention by restating that slavery has always been part of human history. It is a failure to accept Dr. Williams’ point. It is a failure to discuss it. It is a failure to confront the evil of transatlantic slavery, the effect (racism) which still lingers in the country today. This failure is understandable -after all some of our politicians are racists who have enabled the recent racist killings in El Paso Texas where about 21 people died. The cause of the deaths in Dayton Ohio is yet to be established.

It is intellectually dubious and un-ethical to water down, dilute or divert from Dr. Williams’ point. However, I understand the diversion. Our racist politicians do the same to cover, normalize and legitimize their racism.

Stuart Meisenzahl
2 weeks 3 days ago

Adeolu
Your discussion of “Tu quoque” is a bridge too far ....There is nothing in that phrase which implies or concludes as you do in your words..”.....therefore you are wrong “ .
A Tu Quoque argument does not deny or contradict anything. What it does do, and is intended to do, is to diminish the importance or the impact of the stated position. On this single aspect you are correct. The balance of your discussion/argument is just a proverbial Strawman to allow an extended rant on the racism you see around you.

I am not shocked that religious orders owned or held or indentured servants and slaves but very interested in the little known existence of all black religious orders. The Church’s checkered history of its approval and disapproval of the treatment of indigenous people by colonial powers and the use of slaves is hardly a secret. I also willingly concede that the details of such treatment is underreported.
The best that can be said for the Church’s historic position is that it believed non Christians were people who required both civilizing and conversion and that conquest and slavery could be an acceptable and a beneficent method of achieving these goals.
I look forward to reading Dr Williams’ book.

Adeolu Ademoyo
2 weeks 3 days ago

Stuart Meisenzahl,
Thanks for your post. I am happy that you saw how the fallacious reasoning called tu quoque can be used, and is being used to "diminish the importance or the impact of the stated position." And we all know the stated position in this regard. It is the evil of transatlantic slave trade, the evil of racism and Dr. Williams' book and essay on this evil. Stuart Meisenzahl, you may need to go further and inform readers on the impact and consequences (economic, political, social and cultural) of "diminishing the importance of the stated position"-which are the historic evil of transatlantic slave trade, the evil of racism and Dr. Williams' book and essay on this evil.

Now here is what is not clear in your post. You alluded to "extended rant on racism." I am not sure that victims and survivors of the evil of transatlantic slavery and its enduring residue called racism, will agree with you that centering the racism in our society, and calling attention to it is a "rant." Neither do I think that other witnesses of conscience to the evils of transatlantic slave trade and racism will take the centering of the evil of racism and calling attention to it in our society as a "rant." For example, if centering the evil of transatlantic slave trade and racism are "rants" is centering the evil of the Nazi holocaust of the good Jewish people in Hitler's Germany also a "rant"? Or will centering the evil of rape of women in our society qualify as a "rant." Do you really think the survivors of rape will see the centering of the evil of rape in our society in order to eradicate it as "extended rant?"

So, Stuart Meisenzahl, while your point about how people such as politicians and commentators use the fallacious reasoning called tu quoque to diminish stated position is clear, your allusion to "extended rant on racism" is not clear. Can you make it clearer please? God Bless you.

Stuart Meisenzahl
2 weeks 2 days ago

Adeolu
I refer to your “extended rant” precisely because the readers of this Article by Dr Williams already are fully aware of the evil of transatlantic slavery and indeed all slavery. Your reference to the Tu Quoque is used by you as an excuse to tell the readers what they already understand. I believe the part of the TuQuoque argument that you fail to grasp/ignore is that while Tu Quoque diminishes the impact of a stated fact,( slavery) it also points out that individuals involved with such a fact (slavery) did not necessarily understand it to be a great wrong.
You might note that the Church teaches that there is no sin where a person does not know/understand that an act is prohibited.. Similarly under Tu Quoque the facts are affirmed as still true but the implied guilt is tempered by a different understanding of the nature of the wrong.

Adeolu Ademoyo
2 weeks 2 days ago

Stuart Meisenzahl,

I am happy you responded. Please keep responding. This exercise will help us expose all the nuances of the discourse of the evil of plantation and transatlantic slavery and the evil of the lingering racism spawned by plantation and transatlantic slavery. This is something which is often hidden and deliberately ignored as an event of the past, or seen as any other form of inhumanity or slavery-a move designed to diminish the impact of the evil.

Now here we go. I am quoting you. “I refer to your “extended rant” precisely because the readers of this Article by Dr Williams already are fully aware of the evil of transatlantic slavery and indeed all slavery.” Question and observation. So you, know ALL the readers! What gave you the warrant to speak for others-ALL the readers? This is an online platform, so do you know all the readers-including those who read and post and those who read and do not post? This is not rightwing media such as Fox News, Breitbart, OAN where the right wing audience simply fall in line behind whatever is aired on their right wing media. This is America Magazine -open, critical, self reflective, cosmopolitan, inclusive, non-racist where serious conversation takes place. So why will you speak for others? How did you know? You cannot lay claim to know without telling us how. Also, even if we should take you seriously, there is a false assumption in your claim. And here it. It is false to assume that only those who respond to essays and posts in a journal read a journal. So does it mean you also know those who read and do not respond? You cannot assume that only those who respond to essays in a journal read such essays. You know this. But to do that is to act like the ostrich who dips its head and eyes in the sand and because it does not see anyone, it concludes that no one can see it.

Now let us go to other issues.

1. To refer to centering the evil of racism and transatlantic slavery as “extended rant” diminishes (your phrase) the impact of the stated position -which are the evil of transatlantic slavery and racism.

2. Some people read Dr. Williams essay, ignored the central claim in the essay and rushed to talk about how slavery is a general human issue in history. Does that intellectually dubious move not “diminish the impact” of the specific plantation slavery, transatlantic slavery and the racism spawned here in the US by this evil that Dr. Williams is talking about? It is tu quoque to fail to address the unique and specific plantation slavery, transatlantic slavery and the racism and its residue and continued racist impact right here in the United States America and proceed to talk about how slavery is part of human history. It is intellectually and morally dubious. To do that is to DODGE the evil of racism (a continuation of the plantation slavery, transatlantic slavery and the racism) in the United States today, racism which the godfather of racism promotes in his rallies right here in the country. See what I mean.

3. There are politicians who said that those who do not look like them are invaders, rats, s-hole, vermin who live in communities where no human beings will live. Such view is precisely the definition of the residue of transatlantic slavery and lingering racism in the United States of America spawned by the transatlantic and plantation slavery. There is a politician who tweeted that American Congress women who do not look like him should be sent back to “their” countries. Such view is precisely the definition of the residue of transatlantic slavery, and lingering racism in the United States of America spawned by the transatlantic and plantation slavery. The same politician with frenzy worked his audience up describing those who do not look like him and members of his rally and audience as invaders. Such view is precisely the definition of the residue of transatlantic slavery, and lingering racism in the United States of America spawned by the transatlantic and plantation slavery. What happened at that frenzied rally? The audience of the politician said the invaders-should be shot and sent back-Yes they said it. Such view is precisely the definition of the residue of transatlantic slavery, and lingering racism in the United States of America spawned by the transatlantic and plantation slavery. Months later El Paso, Texas happened August 4, 2019. The racist and domestic terrorist shot and killed about 21 people who this domestic terrorist and racist called invaders. The same language of "invasion" and "invaders" to describe fellow human beings was used by the racist and domestic terrorist who killed about 21 people in El Paso, Texas, the racist godfather in his rallies, and members of the audience of the racist godfather. This is precisely the definition of the residue of transatlantic slavery, and lingering racism in the United States of America spawned by the transatlantic and plantation slavery.

4. Based on 3 above here are my observations and questions. (i) You need to do some more study because the transatlantic slavery and the plantation slavery and the racism they spawned are unique, well targeted, and specific. Based on the brutal economic, racial and cultural calculations that underpin the plantation slavery, transatlantic slavery and the racism they spawned, this is one form of evil that has a unique nature like no other. No two pogroms are the same. No two mass murders are the same. No two evils are the same even when they are evil. (ii) You have heard the silly and ignorant statement “Oh I have one black friend, so I am not a racist.” See how a serious issue is reduced to nothing and trivialized? What does that tell you? Whoever said this (and it is commonly said among racists ) is intellectually, morally dubious and fundamentally ignorant of plantation slavery, transatlantic slavery and the racism they spawned. So, given such fundamental ignorance it is important to center the evil of plantation slavery, transatlantic slavery and the racism they produced. (iii) Recall the godfather of racism often says “there is no racist bone in my bone!” Yet this racist godfather grinned in acknowledgement when his raucous audience chanted “shoot the invaders” and “send them back” - the “invaders” and the “them” being those who do not look racially like the racist godfather and his audience. (iv) Remember when the racist godfather said about the Charlottesville killing caused by racists, bigots, fascists, anti-semites, and people chanting “Jews Shall not replace us” that “there are good people on both sides.” If there are good people on both sides as the racist godfather claimed what follows? It means for the racist godfather racists, anti-semites, bigots, fascists and those who want to kill and shoot “invaders” i.e. people who do not look like them (the racist godfather and his audience) are “good” people. So racism is "good", fascism is "good" Killing people who do not look like the racist godfather is "good" according to the racist godfather's claim. Do you think such people know, understand or even accept that the plantation slavery, transatlantic slavery and the racism they spawned are evil?

Conclusion:
You said and I quote you Tu quoque "diminish the importance or the impact of the stated position." Now the stated position is the evil of plantation and transatlantic slavery and the evil of the lingering racism spawned by plantation and transatlantic slavery. Given 1-4 above, to call centering the evil of plantation and transatlantic slavery and the evil of the lingering racism spawned by plantation and transatlantic slavery “extended rant” diminishes the importance or the impact of the stated position”(Your exact phrase). What do you think Stuart?

Again I thank the living God, the Christian God, and America Magazine for the opportunity being given us to draw out the evil of plantation and transatlantic slavery and the evil of the lingering racism spawned by plantation and transatlantic slavery-an evil people pretend is just one of those things, an evil all people of moral conscience are historically, intellectually, spiritually and morally bound to expose and continue to expose.

Stuart Meisenzahl
2 weeks 2 days ago

Adeolu
I think that :
Once again you feel compelled to build a boundless word trampoline on which we could all bounce for eternity
Continued lengthy regurgitation of your original argument does not strengthen it, nor does your adding a recitation of current events.

You simply ignore that while the Tu Quoque form of argument “diminishes the importance of stated position”, it does so BY PROVIDING CONTEXT. In this case THE CONTEXT is simply that on an historical basis huge swaths of humanity did not consider various forms slavery to be evil and wrong.
I have assumed that on a Catholic Magazine site the readers are fully educated enough not to need your tutoring on the existence and evil of slavery...transatlantic,European, Pan Arabian, African, etc.

Adeolu Ademoyo
2 weeks 2 days ago

Stuart Meisenzahl,
Let me remind you of something that happened in this country a short while ago, You must know Mr. Donald Trump-right? I presume that you must also know Frederick Douglass-right? When Mr. Donald Trump was asked a simple question about the transatlantic slavery and those who fought it. He was compelled to refer to Frederick Douglass. But how did Mr. Trump talk about Frederick Douglass? Mr. Trump referred to Frederick Douglass as if he was still living today somewhere in an American city! That is the tragic, deliberate and self inflicted lack of knowledge of a racist who refused to be educated about the evil of the transatlantic and plantation slavery and the lingering racism it has spawned and being perpetuated right here in the United States America today under the administration of the racist god father.

Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist was born (February 1818-February 20, 1895) Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. Yet, Mr. Donald Trump talked as if Frederick Douglass was still alive and living somewhere in an American city. This is the deliberate and self inflicted ignorance which racism produces. You cannot solve a problem you do not know, and which you refuse to know. Intellectual humility and modesty require that one concedes to one's ignorance even if one is going to hold on to one's racism. If a whole Mr. Donald Trump displayed such a horrible ignorance about a foundational issue about this country-plantation slavery, the transatlantic slave trade, the racism it spawned and one of the main abolitionists-Frederick Douglass, then to say centering the nature of racism in this country is "extended rant" amounts to "diminishing the impact and the importance of the stated position."(your phrase). And the stated position is the evil of transatlantic slave trade, plantation slavery and the lingering racism it spawned in this country and which is being perpetuated by the racist god father.

Thank you Mr. Stuart Meisenzahl. Next time please be mindful of the experiences, historical witness, and long memory of the survivors and victims (dead and alive) of the evil called plantation and transatlantic slavery, of the evil of racism before you describe the centering of racism as it affects the body politic of the country with your flawed phrase "extended rant." May God Bless you.

Stuart Meisenzahl
2 weeks 1 day ago

Adeolu
The above Essay by Dr Williams concerns The Catholic Church/Religious Orders/ownership of Slaves...no mention is made of Trump. Yet you seem incapable of discussing anything without reducing it to an exposition of your views of Trump. There is no issue raised which seemingly does not compel you to go on a rant about what you perceive as Trump's racism.
So while you are constantly referring to “the historical record” , I take this opportunity to refer you to your own “historic record” on this site respecting your “Obsessive Trump Racism Disorder”....with an advance apology for using a psycho-babble phrase.
“I am mindful”..that this responsive comment of mine will unfortunately but inevitably cause you to simply repeat all that you have already set forth. I leave it to you to pick through and re-toss your own “word salad” to your hearts content without my future involvement

Adeolu Ademoyo
2 weeks 1 day ago

Stuart Meisenzahl,
There is something called atomism in thinking and reasoning. When someone's thinking is atomistic, she/he isolates, she/he does not see connection. And racists do that when it comes to talk about the evil of transatlantic slavery, and the lingering racism it spawned and being perpetuated under the administration of the racist godfather today.

As usual we are on historical ground, and our conversation about transatlantic slavery and the complicit of institutions such as the Church falls within a historical context-which means the past, the present and the future, which makes us look at the past, the present and the future. So? A holistic thinking (non-atomistic thinking) centers the past, the present and the future in the discourse-do you understand Mr. Stuart Meisenzahl? Atomistic thinking allows those who deploy it to DODGE.

So here is the rub. When a whole Mr. Trump talked as if Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) is still alive, and the same Mr. Trump with his mouth asked fellow American Congress women who do not look like him-Mr. Trump -to be sent back to where they came from and his audience -who look like Mr. Trump and who do not look like the four American Congress women echoed "send them back" , what do you call that Mr. Stuart Meisenzahl? Do you call that knowledge or self inflicted ignorance? Do you call that literacy about the issue- slavery and racism or illiteracy about the issue- slavery and racism? Do you call that love or hatred, racism or non-racism, bigotry or inclusion, evil or good? And the same Mr. Trump said there is no racist bone in his bone! And you have a section of Christians voting for Mr. Trump while evoking God in voting for him! Can you see the connection between what the Church did in the past- the support for slavery of people of African descent, and what a section of Christians who voted for Mr. Trump (falsely using Christian faith and God as a justification) and his racism is doing today? Think holistically and historically Mr. Stuart Meisenzahl.

With all these, it follows that when you-Mr. Stuart Meisenzahl - called centering racism "extended rant" you (your words) are "diminishing the impact and the importance of the stated position."(your phrase). And the stated position is the evil of transatlantic slave trade, plantation slavery and the lingering racism it spawned in this country and which is being perpetuated by the racist god father. When a thinker looks into the past from the present, she/he centers the present and looks into the future. That is the historical connection. It is holistic thinking. It is thinking historically. Stop atomistic thinking. Be holistic in your thinking if you want to join the solution to the racism of the past and which is being orchestrated and accentuated today by Mr. Trump so that when the history of today will be written in future, you will not appeal to ignorance as an excuse.

May God be merciful to you. Please remember those who died as a result of racism and domestic terrorism in your prayers. Also, remember Pope Francis in your prayers for he -in line with our Christian faith- asks us to stand up for the vulnerable, the marginalized and the invisible in our society and walk with them as Jesus Christ did. God Bless.

J Jones
2 weeks 2 days ago

Adeolu, thank you for continuing to speak up and for refusing to be sidetracked.

J Jones
2 weeks 3 days ago

Dr Williams, thank you for this piece. When I read the WashPo article about the Presentation Sisters and the NYC academic who did the research, I also wondered at the lack of reference - by the academic and by the WaPo - to the decades of work by others. It seemed an odd omission for that paper and its investigative reporters. I thought of Sister Irma Dillard RSCJ, a black sister who is education about her community's enslavement of human beings, the fact that they did NOT teach those enslaved persons to read and write, and about racism in today's United States. (And I think today of my fellow parishioners in New Orleans and our study group, once our black Catholic church was rebuilt in 2007, poured over Archbishop Flynn's 2003 pastoral letter on racism (https://www.archspm.org/in-gods-image-pastoral-letter-on-racism/) and the shock of learning from you that it was another 8 years before that same archdiocese agreed to release the sacramental records of enslaved New Orleanians.)

I too wondered at the "disappearing" of Black Catholics and other orders in the stories you reference. I was grateful the Presentation Sisters' story in the Post gave so much space to the bright young student who was so clear-eyed, and I missed the larger history which had been disappeared.

Looking forward to your book!

Dr.Cajetan Coelho
2 weeks 2 days ago

Human beings are weak, fragile and mortal. Mistakes are made and mistakes are corrected.

J Jones
2 weeks 2 days ago

Dr Coelho, the historical norm has been that mistakes committed at the expense of structurally marginalized and non-dominant communities have NOT been corrected, certainly not in the lifetimes of those wronged, as the article makes clear. It is a very new phenomenon that these
corrections (of information, if not dynamics and conditions) can be made comparatively immediately. It is also a new phenomenon that members of the communities wronged have access to the means of publicly and credibly and authoritatively correcting the record rather than relying on a member of the dominant or most powerful/privileged community to rescue the truth. When those corrections occur as quickly as this one does, there is no reason to assume the person who provides the correction lacks an understanding of or compassion for or forgiveness for human nature and the humanity of the person/persons who made the mistake. In correcting the record as soon as possible, scholars like Dr Williams are preventing *new* mistakes from becoming embedded in and reified in the communal narrative. As we learned this week in El Paso, narratives are constructive of human acts of profound inhumanity. The more adept human beings get at correcting the record immediately, the safer our shared narratives - and the structures built on them - will likely be for all of us.

Keep at it, Dr Williams.

Vincent Gaglione
2 weeks 2 days ago

One does wonder what the Final Judgment will be for those who, instead of evangelizing, enabled or engaged in slavery. What could have been the proof of the real Christianity of Catholicism in a new nation was destroyed by a mindset that prompted people to behave like everyone else. Maybe, just maybe, the outliers among Catholic thinkers these days are the bearers of truth while the traditionalists only continue the sins of the past. Just wondering! We all rely on the mercy of God, don’t we, for our arrogance.

J Cosgrove
2 weeks 2 days ago

Oh, I wonder what side you believe you are on. You just condemned God as not smart enough to get it right.

Also the policies of the liberal left have led to the breakdown of family structure that is the root of a lot of problems. How will future do gooders evaluate current do gooders who disdain past do gooders?

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James Martin, S.J.August 23, 2019
In this Aug. 20, 2019 drone photo released by the Corpo de Bombeiros de Mato Grosso, brush fires burn in Guaranta do Norte municipality, Mato Grosso state, Brazil. (Corpo de Bombeiros de Mato Grosso via AP)
A record number of wildfires and the rapid deforestation of the Amazon are prompting Latin American bishops to plead for international action, writes America’s correspondent in Brazil, Eduardo Campos Lima.
Eduardo Campos LimaAugust 23, 2019