Catholic leaders are reacting to the George Floyd case. Here’s what they’re saying.

Demonstrators in Washington gather along the fence surrounding Lafayette Park outside the White House on June 2, 2020. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)Demonstrators in Washington gather along the fence surrounding Lafayette Park outside the White House on June 2, 2020. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

Unprecedented scenes during a tumultuous week across the country were provoked by nine horrifying minutes captured by onlookers outside a convenience store in Minneapolis as George Floyd’s life was extinguished by local police. His death quickly generated outrage across the United States and then the world.

A small sample of the first responses from Catholic voices follows below:


The Vatican

Pope Francis: I have witnessed with great concern the disturbing social unrest in your nation in these past days, following the tragic death of Mr George Floyd. My friends, we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life. At the same time, we have to recognize that “the violence of recent nights is self-destructive and self-defeating. Nothing is gained by violence and so much is lost.”


Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia: I would compare [racism] to COVID-19, but it is a virus of the spirit, a cultural virus that, if not isolated, spreads quickly… Today we must start a revolution of brotherhood. We are all brothers and sisters. Brotherhood is a promise that is lacking in modern times...In my opinion, the true strength that supports us in our weakness is brotherhood and solidarity. And just as it defeats the coronavirus, it also defeats racism.

 

U.S. Bishops

U.S.C.C.B.: We are broken-hearted, sickened, and outraged to watch another video of an African American man being killed before our very eyes. What’s more astounding is that this is happening within mere weeks of several other such occurrences. This is the latest wake-up call that needs to be answered by each of us in a spirit of determined conversion.… As members of the Church, we must stand for the more difficult right and just actions instead of the easy wrongs of indifference.

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Cardinal Blase Cupich (Chicago): “We.” It is a difficult word for white Americans to use in these days when searing anguish, simmering anger and existential sorrow explode into protest, some of which descends into violence. White people must never pretend that our place is to narrate the experience of non-white Americans, let alone feel justified in simply condemning the violence against black people, or the violence that has sparked from that justifiable outrage. No one should allow themselves to dismiss the aims of peaceful protestors because some among them exploited the anger by engaging in criminal acts. Nor should we dismiss the legitimate work of first responders and law enforcement, despite the dangerous overreactions of some against protesters and journalists reporting on these demonstrations.

The responsibility of any neighbor, any citizen, especially those of us who profess belief in Jesus Christ, is to do the work of accompanying their brothers and sisters who carry this pain every day of their lives.


Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley (Boston):The history is clear and tragic: George Floyd was an African American man who died at the hands of a police officer. This is a narrative which has been repeated often and in multiple locations across the country.… The wider community is aware of some cases, but the African American community lives with the experience and memories of these deaths in an entirely different way. It is a daily reality—one they must speak to their children about and live themselves with some fear.

This gap between different communities in what is one country, one civic community, is the broader reality which this week’s events force any of us to reflect upon.


Archbishop Wilton Gregory (Washington): We find ourselves in this national moment again with the awakening of our conscience by heartbreaking photos and video that clearly confirm that racism still endures in our country.... Moments like this cause people of good will, who believe in the value, respect and dignity of every human life, to wonder if and how we can move on from here. The horror of George Floyd’s death, like all acts of racism, hurts all of us in the Body of Christ since we are each made in the image and likeness of God, and deserve the dignity that comes with that existence. This incident reveals the virus of racism among us once again even as we continue to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.


Bishop Edward Sharfenberger (Albany): It is not enough just to decry injustice, or even to pray and sympathize with those who suffer from an everyday experience of being treated as inferior or unworthy because of their racial or ethnic identities. As people of faith we believe that God wants everyone to be saved, and that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God.

We count on our public officials to create and maintain conditions where people can express their views publicly and peacefully. We expect our media to report and not just to dramatize. And we urge swift response to the injustices and unlawful actions, especially those we clearly see.


The Catholic Press

America: Catholics cannot be content to stand on the sidelines of this struggle. In the face of racism, Catholics must hunger for justice as we hunger for the Eucharist. The Gospel calls us, as we prepare for Communion, to “go first and be reconciled” (Mt 5:24) with our sisters and brothers. At this moment, when the Covid-19 pandemic has shown us the depth of our need for the sacraments and for community, this national outcry should lead Catholics, white Catholics especially, to conversion, repentance and reconciliation.
 

Catholic Spirit: Father Daniel Griffith, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes in Minneapolis, also shared a statement on Floyd’s death May 28, and highlighted King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail, in which King “decried the scourge of segregation as well as the apathy of Christians who were not courageous enough to stand up against this regime of injustice.”

Noting that King wrote that letter in the same decade as Pope Paul VI said “If you want peace, work for justice,” Father Griffith said that Our Lady of Lourdes stands in solidarity with African Americans and the people in Minneapolis shocked by Floyd’s death, and that the parish “will seek to engage in a broader conversation of how we can more boldly confront the sin of racism and seek to build a community of authentic solidarity.
 

Commonweal: Historians say that the roots of American policing in the enforcement of slavery laws and the control of urban immigrant and “underclass” populations explains what seems like an institutional predisposition to racism. This has long been evident in the way police treat certain parts of the population not as fellow citizens but as combatants, whether engaged in neighborhood-wide “crackdowns” or the most mundane of traffic stops. In practice, the “thin blue line” often protects not the public from criminals, as it’s supposed to, but white people from racial minorities, the rich from the poor, and the powerful from the powerless.
 

National Catholic Reporter: “What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!”

There is no accounting for the death of George Floyd. A person, a reflection of God's very image, senselessly killed, murdered.

A 46-year-old father of two daughters, stopped in Minneapolis over a report of someone nearby having tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill at a local store. Brutally held to the ground by a police officer's knee for about eight minutes, while others watched. His last words a repeated gasp, a begging for help: “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.”... God's question to Cain repeats and repeats. All this has happened before, and all this will happen again. Who will wedge something in the gear of the machine to stop it going round and round?


Catholic Leaders

The Rev. Bryan Massingale: The fundamental assumption behind all the others is that white people matter, or should matter, more than people of color. Certainly more than black people. That black lives don't matter, or at least not as much as white lives. That's the basic assumption behind Amy Cooper's decisions, actions and words. That's the basic assumption that links Christian Cooper with COVID-19, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Omar Jimenez.


Sister Simone Campbell for NETWORK: George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is another sinful and horrifying act of racism and police brutality in the United States. How many times have we said this should never happen again? Abuse of power by a white police officer has led to the death of another innocent Black man. My sympathy and prayers are with George Floyd’s family and friends, and with all who have lost a loved one as a result of white supremacy.

Justice-seekers in Minneapolis and across the country are crying out for justice, yet their very lives are being threatened by violent policing tactics. Violence is wrong, whether it is encouraged by the police or the President of the United States. I pray with and for all who speak out against the sin of racism. I pray for their safety, for their precious lives. In these days of COVID-19, we have a heightened realization that our safety depends on each other. We have got to act in solidarity with care for all…. Let us act to end racism and violence now that we might know salvation.”


The Most Rev. Roy Campbell, president of the National Black Catholic Congress: Justice is what Mr. Floyd and his family and friends deserve. Justice through equal and fair treatment under the law is what every person in this country deserves. Justice brings about Peace, and Peace allows Love to Flourish. This is what the founding fathers of this country tried to promote in the Constitution and what this nation fought a Civil War to uphold, that ended one hundred and fifty-five years ago. However, the racism brought on by the enslavement of Black Americans in the years leading up to the establishment of the United States of America to the Civil War, still exists and all too frequently displays its ugly effects today in racist attitudes and actions that discriminate one people from another.


Pax Christi USA: Our church’s history includes support for slavery, the promotion of segregation, discrimination against people of color, and the silence that equals complicity. Repentance demands that we raise our voices and take action each and every time one of us is threatened, harmed or killed. On Tuesday, it was our brother, George Floyd. His death–and the deaths of so many People of Color year after year–exposes the historical reality that Black lives don’t matter in our country. Our church should be at the forefront of changing that reality and asserting that Black lives do matter.

For Pax Christi USA, we bring our vocation of peacemaking and our commitment to gospel nonviolence to confront the personal and systemic racism that perpetrates deep spiritual and social brokenness and endangers each of us. The violence which flows from racism is an affront to the God who creates, redeems and sanctifies all and calls us together as one family.


Sean Callahan, C.E.O. and president of Catholic Relief Services: “Then the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He answered, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” The Lord then said: “What have you done! Listen: your brother’s blood cries out to me from the soil.” – Genesis 4:9-10

George Floyd’s blood cries out to God. His tragic death lays bare centuries of oppression and racial injustice in the United States. Catholic Relief Services fights poverty and injustice in 114 countries around the world. CRS is based in Baltimore, and we witness through our diverse staff and communities the blood of many of our African American sisters and brothers crying out to God. Many of us also benefit from white privilege and as an organization can do better to proactively combat systemic racism wherever we find it. Our global staff stands in solidarity and prayer with the family of George Floyd, the victims of racist violence and those struggling for justice in the United States. We commit as an employer and organization of the Catholic Church in the United States to open ourselves to new solutions that contribute to the realization of a more just world. We will not shy away from our responsibility to be Our Brothers’ Keeper.”


Sister Helen Prejean: As a White American of privilege, I’ve never had to fear police crashing into my home or pointing a gun to my head after stopping me on the highway. But I totally believe and support African Americans, who tell story after story of abuse, life threats, or outright death at the hands of law enforcement. And at the apex of government-sanctioned killing, in our miserably racist criminal justice system, I have personally witnessed the legalized execution of African Americans at the hands of government officials. After thirty years’ experience with courts and prisons and execution chambers, I’ve seen just how riddled with racism our entire criminal justice system is, so why should we expect local police forces to be any different? Now, in this pivotal moment of history, in the wake of George Floyd’s death, and in respectful memory of so many people of color who have died at the hands of police, may Floyd’s dying words, “I can’t breathe,” echo in our consciences and become our rallying cry as we join our Black brothers and sisters in the struggle for police reform, and complete reform of the criminal justice system, an institution rooted in racism.


Mary Haddad, R.S.M., president and chief executive officer, Catholic Health Association of the United States: As a Catholic health ministry we affirm that each person is sacred and worthy of our deepest reverence. We are appalled by the recent killings of African Americans by law enforcement officials and vigilantes and acknowledge the deep grief and anger now being expressed.

The recent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and others in similar circumstances remind us that racism continues to cast a long shadow across our nation. We must respond, not in violence, but in a renewed commitment to justice and peace. Let us work in solidarity to end the racism and violence that continues to devastate the health and well-being of too many individuals and communities.


Catholic universities

Fordham President Joseph M. McShane, S.J.: It is with a heavy and (let me be honest here) angry heart that I write to you today. I suspect that your hearts are also angry and heavy with sorrow. And how could we not be angry, dismayed and sorrowful at this moment? In the course of the past few painful months, we have witnessed the savage and senseless killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, as well as many other instances of violence—lethal and not—against people of color in the United States. That is not to mention the longstanding economic violence against people of color and their communities in this country, and the widespread, systemic and shameful disregard for the value of their lives in the eyes of others. (We have seen this systemic disregard quite clearly during the COVID-19 pandemic: amid the suffering across the country, and especially in the Bronx, communities of color were and are more vulnerable and more harshly affected than are white communities.)


Gonzaga: As our university president stated in the context of the racial violence in Charlottesville, Gonzaga stands in solidarity with all those who oppose hate, who oppose prejudice, who oppose racism—and daily affirms its commitment to working proactively and constructively to create a culture and society where the dignity of each and every individual is treasured, honored, and celebrated, and the words “equity,” “inclusivity,” and “justice” are truly hallmarks of our way of proceeding.


Notre Dame Student Government: Our university can do better. The statement released by the University of Notre Dame on racial justice was a disappointment to many students, faculty, staff, and alumni who, frankly, expected more from our beloved university. Rather than simply looking back to 1964 when Father Ted stood hand in hand with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we should be looking ahead to the ways we can contribute to the fight against racism in the present, to fight for justice and peace. We urge university officials to proactively engage in more advocacy work to reassure our Black community members that, as an institution, we are still fighting on their side just as passionately as we once did in the past. We must amplify the voices of Black students in the present. As a student body, we must actively join together to help combat systems of oppression for minority groups. It is well within our responsibilities to support and advocate for our peers when systems have continuously failed them. If we choose to remain silent and complicit in this ongoing battle against racism, we choose to side with these oppressive forces.


Xavier University of Louisiana President Reynold Verret: My grief mingles with an unceasing lament for our many dead: a young man in Southern Georgia, a young woman in Louisville, our alumna in Fort Worth, and so many known and unknown. We are brought to tears, clamoring for justice, asking, “When will we expiate our nation’s original sin of racism and slavery?”

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