Priest: U.S., Church need to deal with racism’s deep roots

| Susan Klemond | September 27, 2017 | 11 Comments

Social ethicist Father Bryan Massingale speaks on racism Sept. 20 at St. Catherine University in St. Paul. Ann Papenfuss

The United States will only heal from racism and become a just society when Americans honestly address racism’s underlying causes, Father Bryan Massingale said Sept. 20 in a lecture at St. Catherine University in St. Paul.

“There are many ways to talk about racism as a political issue, a sociological phenomenon [and] a cultural divide, but at its deepest level, racism is a soul sickness,” said Father Massingale, a racial justice scholar and professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University in New York. “It’s a profound warping of the human spirit that enables human communities to create communities of cold, callous indifference to their darker brothers and sisters.”

The lecture, “To Redeem the Soul of America: A Moral Vision for a Movement Against Racism,” was co-sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, the Myser Initiative on Catholic Identity at St. Catherine University, and St. Peter Claver parish in St. Paul. The event was part of St. Peter Claver’s 125th anniversary celebration, and the parish’s gospel choir performed before Father Massingale’s presentation. About 850 students, members of at least 25 Catholic parishes and others attended the event or watched nearby on monitors.

The United States hasn’t had an honest reckoning with its history, said Father Massingale, author of “Racial Justice and the Catholic Church” (Orbis, 2010). Although laws have changed, underlying cultural meanings and values have changed less, leaving racism still entrenched in society, he said. That’s one reason Martin Luther King Jr. called for pulling up the roots of racism to morally and ethically transform American society, he added.

As part of this transformation, he said, the Catholic Church in America needs to see that it remains a predominantly white institution, and it didn’t adequately confront racism in the 20th century.

The country’s post-civil rights period has been short compared to the total history of African-Americans’ experience of inferiority, and pain and injustice remain, Father Massingale said.

If people don’t treat the deeper meaning of racism in the “national soul,” it finds new form and expression, he said.

“At the core of [the] soul of America, there is deep ambivalence on the part of this nation to the condition of African-Americans specifically and people of color in general,” he said.

Although the U.S. Catholic bishops have called racism a “radical evil,” the Church in America hasn’t developed a radical response that employs not only charity but justice, Father Massingale said.

America has never had a vision for a racially just society, he said. To contrast, he pointed to King’s vision of people peacefully relating to each other across their differences.

To effectively confront racism, Father Massingale offered several steps, including naming it, humbly asking that it be removed, encountering others who are different and prayer.

“We are healed of our biases only through encounter, and that means putting ourselves in the way of having difficult two-way conversations and not running when they make us uncomfortable,” he said.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda, who led a closing prayer, said he was familiar with Father Massingale’s writing, “but to hear him actually speak in such a provocative way and such a truly Catholic way, that reminds us who we’re supposed to be.”

Attendee Dave Swinarski, 68, agreed that discussing racism can be uncomfortable.

“It’s a step that we can’t fear, because it’s part of who we are,” said Swinarski, a parishioner of St. Joseph in Red Wing. “We need to discuss it and be able to talk about it to all people so that we can be more accepting.”

Corinna Turbes, 30, also attended the lecture. “I’m really interested in how to have these conversations and what are some thoughtful ways to bring up this conversation in a way that really can affect public policy in a meaningful and just light,” she said.

Despite challenges in overcoming racism, Father Massingale said there is reason for hope.

“The society we live in is the result of human choices and decisions,” he said. “This means that human beings can change things. When humans break, divide and separate, we can — with God’s help — also heal, unite and restore. What is now does not have to be. Therein lies our hope and our challenge.”

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  • Guy McClung

    Fr. Massingale and his liberal cohorts rant to heaven about the “theolgoical silence” about racism, but they refuse to address the deafening silence about black genocidce and RETA policy, the racial eugenic targeted abortion policy of the Democrat Party of Death and of prodeath republicans-for obvious reasons. About 5000 lynchings in all of US history, but the Democrats promote Planned Parenthood and its death dealing – which has resulted in about 30,000,000 murdered minority [black and hispanic] babies, [our of a total of about 60,000,000 since Roe V. Wade] while their mamas account for less than 20% of the population. 30,000,000 is 50% no matter how much Fr M and other supporters of the Democrats want to do the math. Some days in San Antonio TX all 30 or so of the dead babies are hispanic. No one should listen to a word this democrat shill Fr M says until he and his ilk address the black genocide results of RETA and its intentional pursuit by the Democrats of Death. Guy McClung, Texas

    • Roy Hobbes

      Hear! Hear!

    • Hugh Macsherry

      And that means that there is no racism? Doesn’t it speak to the black community as suffering from such racism? No one can speak to every issue all the time. Are you saying that racism, which is also described by the Church as intrinsic evil on par with abortion, does not deserve to be addressed?

      • Guy McClung

        What I wrote does not mean there is no racism. Yes, because of the Democrats Party Of Death black genocide and RETA policy, the black community HAS suffered and IS suffering-especially the tens of millions of black babies who died tortured hideous painful deaths in their mothers wombs, some then on tables in abortion businesses where no one saved them, as they cried their last cries, skin burnt off by deadly saline solution, before expiring. Yes no one can speak to every issue – I do a “dead persons” rating – so many dead because they have not been taught to read; so many dead because govt didnt give them a free cell phone; so many dead because they starved to death; so many dead from cancer; co many dead from accidents – and each time I figure this up, it seems that the 3500 or so killed DAILY in the USA is a larger number of dead humans than any number ASSOCIATED WITH ANY OTHER ISSUE. And half of those are black or brown babies – with the Democrat Population Control arm [and campaign fund funneller], Planned Parenthood, killling about 900 each day. So – silly me – I begin with the life issue first.

        Racism needs to be addressed; but not by hypocrite, so-called theologians who vote Democrat, and liberals who refuse to admit that RETA and black genocide in America exist.

        Guy McClung, Texas

        • gk90

          Sounds like someone being a GOP shill. Of course President Trump and the GOP truly have the answers for law abiding God fearing Christians. Don’t they? And the Democrats are pure evil? Sounds like the complex world is just too much for some people, who just might be on the payroll of a group of Americans leaning into a new type of fascism. Know anything about fascism? Look at it’s history and the role of the Church in promoting and not opposing it. Looks like its coming back hiding behind the curtain of Abortion.

          • ben king

            Hey GK90
            Voting to kill defenseless babies is a crime that is unimaginable. But you sweep it under the rug; while at the same time being self righteous. I assure you God won’t do the same. Liberals like you need to check out the lutheran church with the tranny preacher because you are too weak, and confused, to be a real Catholic. Yes, Demoncrats are pure evil, and they bury it because they are following the crowd, and want to steal other’s monies, and be jealous of successful people, and actually vote to kill babies. Remember being a part of an angry mob is not the place to be, if you are a man or woman of GOD. You are sick and need confession big time. You just argued for abortion by trying to redirect it to Trump,a liberals favorite topic!

  • Charles C.

    We seem to be stuck, can we please find a different approach?

    From Black “leaders,” Catholic bishops, and many politicians, we hear over and over that we need to listen to Black voices telling us how bad the country and the Church were, well before I was born (and I’m an old frog).

    We are also told repeatedly that Blacks aren’t doing as well as Whites (they’re not even doing as well as they were before Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and the modern welfare state), and that this discrepancy is caused by a vague racism that every white and every institution in the country displays (whether they know it or not).

    In Fr. Massingale’s speeches he points to the fact that there aren’t the same percentage of Black priests in America as their percentage in the population. I don’t know that he specifies why this is. Could it be that God doesn’t call Blacks? I hardly think so. Does Fr. Massingale think that seminaries turn Blacks away? I’d like to see some evidence for that. We welcome priests who are “people of color” from foreign countries, even if it’s a struggle to understand the homily because of the accent. I see no racism there. Does he want a quota system for Blacks? Does he want all of their education paid for? Does he want them to be given good enough grades and evaluations so that they all finish the program successfully?

    If the good father wants to point to an act of racism perpetrated by someone against someone, I’ll protest with him. But that’s not what he does. He gathers statistics and impressions and says all whites and the Church should feel guilty, they should listen to people who will scold them and make them feel miserable, then they should be forced by law to do something they wouldn’t do otherwise.

    By preaching that sermon over and over, Fr. Massingale simply raises the level of anger, fear, and sense of entitlement. Bishops who support him should tread carefully, while they look for a different approach.

    How about working for school vouchers; they exemplify freedom, parental responsibility, and improve the education of minorities?

    How about focusing on Black men to encourage them to marry before they have children and to stay with the children?

    How about . . . lots of other things rather than the tired and unhelpful guilt speeches.

    • ben king

      I hate school vouchers. Now we have black kids taking over Catholic schools when they are not Catholic families, and they are fleeing the violence that comes inherently with Black kids in public schools. If black kids are violent, because of a lack of fathers and a lack of values and a lack of God, why give them a benefit they do not deserve as a people? There are schools around me that are now almost exclusively black when none of these kids will end up being Catholic. This is unfair to real Catholics. Also, as a white Catholic, I feel discriminated against in hiring by Churches myself. I tried to go to the seminary and it was infested with liberals and homosexuals, and this is where we are at because of our weak Catholic laity. I could blame it on me being white, but I know I am being discriminated against because I am Catholic, not because I am white.
      Blacks are the racist ones. They are so racist they are even racist against themselves. I drove a school bus for a month and these black kids are so mean to each other, calling each other ugly, and the violence was bad as well. Black families have been in crisis for many decades now, and it is only getting worse. The black family is being decimated by entitlements, and they blame the white man for it. If it were up to the white man, all these entitlements would have stopped long ago, but then what would this lame priest have to whine about? White taxpayers are paying to be abused by black people like this fake priest. Black people are extremely race conscious, it is always white folks this and white folks that. we cannot accept this behavior anymore as white people and we have to argue in our own defense instead of being wimps. The only reason there are no black priests is because they do not really understand God, or believe in Him. They are into GREED, and this is a big problem for them (and white people too). Greed, no fathers for their boys, and no FATHER in their Church life is killing the black community and they blame me as a white man for it. Give me a break, when will this stop? Black people know it is BS but they have been bred to whine about white people, and have become SO WEAK as a result it is unimaginable. Stay out of our Catholic schools and seminaries, we have enough problems without an invasion of the whining, violent, racist American black man.

  • Charles C.

    I saw a chart which helps explain some frustration felt over the subject. As I don’t know how to copy it in proper size here, I’ll try to explain it as well as I can. It said that if a White person:

    1. Moves out of a mixed neighborhood, it’s “White Flight” and therefore Racism.
    2. Moves into a mixed neighborhood, its “Gentrification” and therefore Racism.
    3. Isolates from minority culture, they are “Non-inclusive” and therefore Racist.
    4. Gets involved in a minority culture, it’s “Cultural appropriation” and therefore Racist.
    5. If they pay no attention to color, they are “Ignoring Racism” and therefore Racist.
    6. If they are paying attention to color, they are Racist.

    It ended with:
    “No matter what you do. It will never be enough.”

    May I add:
    7. If they vote against a Black candidate, they are Racist.
    8. If they vote for a Black candidate, they are voting out of guilt over their Racism.

    That made me wonder if it’s about race at all. What role does the divisive tactic of identity politics play in the continuing uproar over race?

    • fisherhughes

      I’m the opposite. I don’t think the race situation can or will improve. As a Black woman, I don’t care anymore. I give up, because I’m tired.

  • Vineeta Whyte

    I feel Catholics racism is more deep rooted than Protestants. Protestants are more open minded to different views and outlooks whereas Catholics are rigid in their beliefs and that often includes strong racist beliefs – in my experience. I’m still waiting for someone to prove me wrong.