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People struggle with a Confederate flag as a crowd of white nationalists are met by a group of counter-protesters in early August in Charlottesville, Va. (CNS photo/Justin Ide, Reuters)

Fifty years since the U.S. civil rights movement, racism, sexism, discrimination based on sexual orientation and a host of other societal challenges “continue to hold us captive,” Archbishop Wilton Gregory told a group of U.S. priests gathered in Chicago on April 26.

The Atlanta archbishop, who is a former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that “many collective social injustices have not greatly improved over the past half-century and in some situations, a few may have even grown worse.”

Among the persistent ills that must be addressed, he said, is racism, which he described as “more subtle perhaps” today than in generations past but “no less degrading,” as well as “unabashed economic injustice from which certain classes can never fully escape.” He said criminal justice challenges remain, noting that U.S. prisons are “overflowing with inmates disproportionately representing people of color” and said body cameras worn by some police officers reveal occasional “violence against unarmed people much like that which others suffered in 1968.”

“Many collective social injustices have not greatly improved over the past half-century and in some situations, a few may have even grown worse.”

Compounding those challenges, he said, over the past 50 years people have developed new ways to discriminate, including “wage discrimination” based on gender and “the brutality that an individual’s sexual orientation often fosters and justifies.” He also lamented “the current wave of nativism that throughout U.S. history has constantly managed to change its attire but not its vitriol.”

Though he focused on many forms of discrimination during his talk, Archbishop Gregory, perhaps the most high-profile member of a small group of U.S. Catholic bishops who are African-American (none has ever been made a cardinal), spent much of his talk condemning racism and lauding those who stood against recent white supremacy rallies that went largely unnoticed in the national media.

“The names and the voices of yesterday’s racists have changed, but not their message,” he said.

He highlighted a neo-Nazi rally near Atlanta last weekend, during which about two dozen white supremacists gathered to protest illegal immigration and the removal of confederate monuments. Following that rally, another took place in a nearby town, where demonstrators burned a swastika and raised their arms in a Nazi salute.

A number of Catholic bishops have highlighted racism as a societal ill in need of attention in recent years.

“Hatred and bigotry always seem to manage to transition into a new environment with their venom undiluted,” the archbishop said. “Fortunately, there are still people of faith and courage who confront such hatred,” he said, lauding counter-protesters who “stood strong together” against “racial animosity and fanaticism.”

A number of Catholic bishops have highlighted racism as a societal ill in need of attention in recent years. Following the white supremacy rally in Charlottesville, Va., last summer, the U.S.C.C.B. formed an ad hoc committee meant to address racism. A pastoral letter on racism, the first since 1979, is expected to be voted on by the full body of bishops in November.

Photo courtesy of the National Federation of Priests' Councils
Photo courtesy of the National Federation of  Priests' Councils

Archbishop Gregory was speaking in his native Chicago—he was made a bishop under the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin—at a meeting of the National Federation of Priests Councils, an organization formed to foster collegiality among U.S. priests that is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Addressing the 100 or so priests present, Archbishop Gregory said priests ministering in the United States today must strive both to welcome international clergy who may not share their culture and collaborate effectively with lay people, particularly women, who “energize parish life.” He also called on seminaries to “better prepare our candidates to witness to the Gospel mandates of charity and justice.”

In an interview with America following his talk, the archbishop said racism and nativism has managed to “metastasize” in every generation and that they must be confronted anew—no matter how much progress was seemingly made by “giants” in other eras.

“We may have fooled ourselves to think we have solved this sin 50 years ago, but every generation has to confront it,” he said. “It’s never completely conquered no matter how great the figures who rise up in a certain society.”

He said social media is something of a mixed blessing, allowing injustices to come to light but also inundating people with information and “giving us the impression that no progress has ever been made because we’re constantly being exposed” to continued challenges.

During this talk, he said priests must not fear acting boldly when it comes to fighting injustice, noting that Catholic leaders active in previous struggles were seen “as mavericks and rebels because they were brave enough to speak up and challenge the prevailing systems and structures.” He added that they “often stood alone or felt isolated in their courageous witness against social injustices.”

Church leaders must “stand behind” social justice activists today, he said, who “should never doubt our support and admiration.”

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JR Cosgrove
6 years 1 month ago

Have things gotten better or worse since 1968?

Most believe it has gotten much better. If worse, then it what ways? Just what are the race and gender injustices? We need specifics not just words.

Pointing to a group of a couple dozen people is not evidence of racism. It is actually evidence of a lack of racism if that is one's example.

For some specifics.

Gender gaps? More women are being educated than men. Does the bishop mean men are being discriminated against?

Racial Discrimination?

Black boys raised in America, even in the wealthiest families and living in some of the most well-to-do neighborhoods, still earn less in adulthood than white boys with similar backgrounds, according to a sweeping new study that traced the lives of millions of children.

That seems to confirm that there is racism operating in someway but then

No such income gap exists between black and white women raised in similar households…black women earn slightly more than white women conditional on parent income.

So how come black women slightly outperform white women? This would indicate whites and men are being discriminated against.

For a contrary opinion on racism Orlando Patterson, a black sociologist at Harvard, said about 20 years ago concerning the United States

America, while still flawed in its race relations ... is now the least racist white- majority society in the world; has a better record of legal protection of minorities than any other society, white or black; offers more opportunities to a greater number of black persons than any other society, including all those of Africa .

So should we be celebrating our success in race and gender progress?

Now, we have serious problems in this country with male black Americans and their lack of success and their incarceration rate. But it does not seem to be racism of the kind people usually point to.

I would look at the lack of father as a potential cause.

Robert Lewis
6 years 1 month ago

I agree with you about the lack of strong "father figures" in black male society, but I suggest that you look at last year's film "Moonlight," and notice that the unconventional, substitutionary "father figures" are decried. Something is better than nothing, right? Also, black females do much better than black males because far fewer of them are impressed by rap, house music and "gangsta" culture. If you had ever taught black children in high schools, you'd have noticed that difference between African American females and African American males.

JR Cosgrove
6 years 1 month ago

Thank you for agreeing with me and pointing to the references.

I am aware of how the issue plays out. The editors here bury this concern and just point to racism.

Nora Bolcon
6 years 1 month ago

This is the problem with looking at a question only based on what you see immediately before but not asking why it is in front of you. Info. without research tells a false story. My father and his wife are both professors and over the last decade they have told me about a strange trend in all colleges - at least nationwide in the U.S. The trend is that the colleges have tons of female applicants with nearly perfect scores and GPAs every year to pick from but not any way near that of male applicants. Literally, many co-ed colleges have had to take far lesser quality male applicants (white usually) compared to female applicants in order to keep a balance of genders at their schools. This automatically leads to gender discrimination where female applicants must perform better than males and even then are less likely to be accepted.

Added to the above there is a very real gender gap in women doing the same work in every country of the world and being paid some degree less for that work while still having to deal with greater amounts of sexual harassment then men overall.

So yes things are better than before for women but not without enormous and constant fighting to keep close to same ground as men and we still are not being treated equally. Our church and most religions exacerbate this problem, when their example of leadership is often male exclusive with little or no respect for the equal sacredness or right to vote and voice as men and when they push our members to constantly vote for republican candidates based solely on pro-life. These candidates often vote against women in other important areas such as not supporting government funded day care and longer paid maternity and paternity leaves, and health care concerns also.

Mike Escril
6 years 1 month ago

You are clearly not a Catholic, Nora, so why don't you just leave and become a liberal Protestant ?

Vincent Gaglione
6 years 1 month ago

“A number of Catholic bishops have highlighted racism as a societal ill in need of attention in recent years,” the article states. The gravity of the issue is ignored. Its prevalent manifestations are ignored or explained away. It is ingrained in the USA psyche.

Racism is NOT only a societal ill. It is serious sin. Maybe what we need is a conference of Bishops and a Pope willing to define racism like they define abortion, enough to self-excommunicate you! In this nation there would be such a drop in funding, I venture to guess half of Catholic institutions would evaporate.

JR Cosgrove
6 years 1 month ago

I think you may be on to something.

Maybe what we need is a conference of Bishops and a Pope willing to define racism like they define abortion, enough to self-excommunicate you!

Every Catholic Democrat in the country would be excommunicated. They are responsible for the policies that caused the problems. Maybe this is a way to start to remedy the situation.

The gravity of the issue is ignored. Its prevalent manifestations are ignored or explained away

What is ignored are the underlying causes and their roots. As I said it is for political reasons they are ignored.

Nora Bolcon
6 years 1 month ago

Well, Our pope should first define sexism that way since we actually have been a global seed bed for that hatred and continue to be so as we uphold this sin with the continued stripping of women from an entire sacrament that no Gospel ever has Jesus allowing our leaders to do. We have literally told women to consider themselves excommunicated for standing against the hatred and sin of misogyny in our church. So we need to make up for that one first and then yes go after racism too or at the same time.

Lisa Weber
6 years 1 month ago

Very little in this article addresses gender injustice. An important step forward in addressing gender injustice will be to realize that patriarchy alone is not the problem. Patriarchy and matriarchy together are the problem. I would love to see the church begin to talk about how similar patriarchy and matriarchy are and to eliminate both from church leadership.

Mike Escril
6 years 1 month ago

People like you Lisa need to leave the Catholic Church pronto. You are a cancer with your radical feminist beliefs. Clearly, for you, secular nonsense like "patriarchy and matriarchy" and "reproductive freedom" and other leftist ideologies are what animates you in life.

So show some integrity, leave the Catholic Church, and stop the facade.

Nora Bolcon
6 years 1 month ago

I read this and want to ask this bishop do you even know what sexism is? or have you lied to yourselves for so long that you do not see that our very ordination practices that decide all women who are called to priesthood - and I mean ordained priesthood - are liars or misguided fools is horrible sexism. We tell women from birth they are not as sacred as men and claim not to be misogynistic.

FYI - The definition of sexism is : Sexism is prejudice or discrimination based on a person's sex or gender. Sexism can affect anyone, but it is particularly documented as affecting women and girls. It has been linked to stereotypes and gender roles, and may include the belief that one sex or gender is intrinsically superior to another.

Yes Archbishop every day you refuse to demand our Pope ordain women equally to men as priests you sin against God and all women because all Christians are accountable to stand up for their siblings in faith when they are being abused.

Hence today's Gospel: If you love me you will do and follow what I command. However, if you do not love me then you will not follow what I teach or command. And what is Christ's command? "Treat each other (all of each other - your sisters and brothers) the same as I have treated you.
Jesus does not ask us to consider if that sibling is exactly the same person I am? Is she/he black, or Spanish, or male or female and then decide how you should you treat them, based on their differences in the flesh compared to yourself. No, absolutely not! Jesus tells us treat all others (especially our brothers and sisters in Christ) the same as you wish to be treated and the same way Jesus treated the apostles and disciples when he walked with them on earth, both male and female.

Our Roman Catholic Church now and throughout its history is one of the largest contributors to sexism's most hideous crimes and extremely abusive role throughout the world and until we learn and act with women in our church as Christ so clearly commands and ordain women the same as men in our church, we will continue to be the Great Abuser of Women in our World. The great poverty maker and demoralizer of females on a global scale.

When will we demand justice and truth! Shame on us. seriously that is how this article makes me feel - ashamed.

Mike Escril
6 years 1 month ago

Sexism is FAKE NEWS. "Male and female he created them", Nora. Viva la difference !

If you don't like the Catholic Church -- clearly you don't -- leave. Parasites are not welcome.

Mike Escril
6 years 1 month ago

This archbishop should resign pronto. He's worried about non-issues like "discrimination" against various groups and not a PEEP out of his moutha bout anti-Catholic bigotry like the kind practiced by his friend John Lewis and other left-wing Democrats.

Mike Escril
6 years 1 month ago

The only racism in this country is that experienced by white Catholics: racial quotas, affirmative action, "diversity" programs, and forced busing.

All suppored by the Catholic leadership and the USCC so as not to offend their anti-Catholic allies in the social justice movements.

The bishops are traitors to the flock and we are no longer going to be sold out by them.

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