Pope Francis on the death of George Floyd: We cannot tolerate racism and claim to defend life

Protesters in Minneapolis gather June 1, 2020. (CNS photo/Lucas Jackson, Reuters) 

Pope Francis this morning spoke of his “great concern” at “the disturbing social unrest” in the United States following “the tragic death of George Floyd,” which he attributed to “the sin of racism.”

“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,” the pope said.

He did so in a message addressed to his “dear brothers and sisters in the United States,” meaning the entire nation and not just its 70 million Catholics, a senior Vatican source told America. He spoke to them during his virtual public audience from the library of the apostolic palace on June 3, which was carried by Vatican Media.

Pope Francis spoke of his “great concern” at “the disturbing social unrest” in the United States following “the tragic death of George Floyd,” which he attributed to “the sin of racism.”

His words during the audience and later in a statement indicated that he considers George Floyd’s death to be a result of racism. His carefully chosen words left no room for equivocation: Any Catholic who claims “to defend the sacredness of every human life” must combat racism and exclusion in all its forms.

Francis is well aware that a sizable number of Catholics and other Christians in the United States limit the defense of “the sacredness of human life” mainly to abortion, but do not view racism, the death penalty or other forms of exclusion—like mistreatment of migrants—as life issues. In today’s message, the pope underlined the full teaching of the church regarding “the defense of the sacredness of every human life” as expressed in the Second Vatican Council. He does not want this teaching to be reduced and manipulated for political or ideological reasons

“At the same time,” he said, “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.” These words were a direct quote from a recent statement by Archbishop José Gomez, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Vatican News said.

Pope Francis: “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.” 

Pope Francis, like his predecessors, including Sts. Paul VI and John Paul II, has always advocated nonviolence. Indeed, he has often cited Martin Luther King Jr. in this regard, including during his address to the U.S. Congress on Sept. 24, 2015, when he recalled the peaceful march Dr. King led from Selma to Montgomery.

In the last part of his message, Pope Francis said, “Today I join the Church in Saint Paul and Minneapolis, and in the entire United States, in praying for the repose of the soul of George Floyd and of all those others who have lost their lives as a result of the sin of racism.” His inclusion of the many “who have lost their lives as a result of the sin of racism” is highly significant, especially at the present moment but also in the light of the history of racism in the United States.

He invited all believers to join him in prayer: “Let us pray for the consolation of their grieving families and friends and let us implore the national reconciliation and peace for which we yearn.” The call for “national reconciliation and peace” was also significant. Catholic leaders like Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago have appealed for church leaders and others to work together for “national reconciliation.”

Pope Francis concluded his message with this prayer: “May Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of America, intercede for all those who work for peace and justice in your land and throughout the world. May God bless all of you and your families.”

Full Text of the Pope Francis’ Message on George Floyd

Dear brothers and sisters in the United States, 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.” Today I join the Church in Saint Paul and Minneapolis, and in the entire United States, in praying for the repose of the soul of George Floyd and of all those others who have lost their lives as a result of the sin of racism. Let us pray for the consolation of their grieving families and friends and let us implore the national reconciliation and peace for which we yearn. May Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of America, intercede for all those who work for peace and justice in your land and throughout the world. May God bless all of you and your families.

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