Bishops offer action steps to address issues of racism

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry, seen in this file photo, is chair of the U.S. Conference of Bishops Subcommittee on African American Affairs. The committee recently published action steps for dioceses and parishes to use to address racism. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

When a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd on May 25, a wave of protests demanding racial justice broke out around the country and world.

In response, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Subcommittee of African American Affairs published nine action steps to help diocesan bishops and parish communities look at the issue of racism and to encourage change.

The committee of bishops, priests, men and women religious and laypeople is chaired by Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry.

“Much of this came from their own life experience in their local areas and dioceses across the country, what they have worked with or find that’s useful to work with,” Bishop Perry said of the action steps. 

The action steps are:

1.   Read (or re-read) “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love – A Pastoral Letter Against Racism” using the accompanying study guide. Find it at:

2.   Create various large- and small-group opportunities for parishioners to process their feelings in the midst of news and commentary about vulnerable populations and law enforcement. Encourage participants to reflect or share their own upbringing regarding comments in the home, from parents and individuals, media and entertainment, even practices of the church about the merits or demerits of certain groups of people made to be “the other.” Ask “How I have knowingly or unconsciously made this formation part of my world view?”

3.   Endeavor to better communicate and invite participation in ministries and programs (parish-based or otherwise) that bring people closer to the challenges faced by African Americans, particularly those most marginalized. This might include mentorship, job development, food pantry or ex-offender programs that minister directly to the needs of African Americans most affected by racism in our society.

4.   Arrange a safe space for young people to reflect and pray about racism and recent events. Listen to the current experiences of young people. Encourage and allow their creative expression. Invite them to generate methodologies that are meaningful to them.

5.   Attend an intergenerational, interracial virtual town hall discussion on racism. Respect that for some African Americans, Hispanics and others talking about personal racial experiences in a mixed-race setting is like reopening a wound that hasn’t fully healed.

6.   Use a pastoral and non-partisan lens to respond to concerns of parishioners, clergy and staff about racism, policing and public safety. Do not politicize this. Lean on Gospel values instead.

7.   Meet with chaplains and chiefs of police departments to discuss possible actions. Engage parish pastoral and finance councils in this discussion.

8.   Invite a conversation with a group of African American, Latino, Asian, Indigenous or African men, women and/or young people about their personal experiences with law enforcement.

9.   Preach against racism and for personal responsibility to eradicate it. Explore how anti-racism looks. Continue to study and understand racism as it manifested in the past and does so today.

Bishop Perry said he doesn’t expect dioceses and parishes to undertake all of the action steps.

“I think it’s good that bishops and pastors of parishes can take one or two of these and run with it. We don’t expect people to use all nine,” he said. “They are suggestions for how we can take small but concerted steps. If they just take one of them and make it part of a parish plan or a diocesan plan, they’ll be doing very, very good.”

Bishop Perry, who is African American, recommended people start with number four, which he said is “an examination of conscience for a person to look into their own lives and see where they get their formation from.”

That formation can come from talk over meals at home or overhearing adults talk about issues of race, whether positive or negative.

He also recommended number five.

“I think it’s important for the next generation, for young people, to come to some sort of understanding how they can be ambassadors of friendship and goodwill; digging into their own experience at school, how they see their schoolmates who may be of a different racial or national background; what do they see happening around them and how are they processing that information and what they are seeing and hearing,” Bishop Perry said.

In the end, he hopes these action steps will create a deeper sense of empathy among Catholics and a better understanding of issues of race.

“This is something that I think would be important beyond the officials of the church putting out statements, pastoral letters and those kinds of things,” he said.


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