Catholic teaching and the death of George Floyd

| Father Daniel Griffith | June 10, 2020 | 0 Comments

The most apt description I can think of to describe what many people experienced upon first seeing the killing of George Floyd was that it shocked our conscience. Indeed, the death of Mr. Floyd, whose life was celebrated and memorialized last week, has shocked the conscience of a nation. Americans have been collectively and rightly convulsed by the brutal reality that our great national sin of racial injustice continues to take black lives with impunity.

I regularly teach a course called Catholic Thought, Law and Policy at the St. Thomas Law School. The course examines several American issues of law and policy through the lens of Catholic social teaching. While I change out some issues in my syllabus from year to year based on their topical relevance, racial justice is always in my syllabus because, sadly, it remains perennially relevant.

As the late Ella Baker, an African American civil and human rights activist, “until the killing of black men, black mother’s sons, is considered as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s son, we, who believe in freedom, cannot rest.” My hope is that we have finally arrived at that critical moment as a nation — a moment of true transformation and healing.

The bishops of the United States also see racism as an ongoing concern, relevant to the common good, as addressed in a 2018 pastoral letter, “Open Wide Our Hearts.” The bishops teach that racism is a sin — an intrinsic evil that can never be justified. Racism offends the dignity of the human person, thwarts justice and obscures the very presence of God within each human life.

Because racism and racial injustice inhibit human flourishing and the authentic human development, it is particularly corrosive to the common good.

I have long seen the connection between abortion and racial injustice, as both intrinsically and systemically deny freedom and life’s dignity to God’s precious creation. I remain hopeful in the providence of God and find hope, too, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that the long arc of history bends toward justice.

My own transformation regarding the presence of racial injustice began a quarter century ago at William Mitchell Law School. Up until that point, I had lived a fairly insular life — growing up a white Catholic kid in northeastern Wisconsin. At Mitchell, I was fortunate to be among a lively group of law students who became friends, including a number of African Americans. My eyes were opened in some profound ways to their experience of life in America, in many ways starkly different than my own.

I will never forget the contrasting reactions to the O.J. Simpson verdict as law students were eating lunch in the commons. Clearly from their reaction, my African American friends saw some vindication in the verdict. It was noteworthy. My sense of the reality and presence of racial injustice has deepened over the years as I have taught African American law students who have relayed similar stories of harm, based solely on the color of their skin.

Having delved into restorative justice over the past several years, I see a clear role that restorative practices can play in addressing and in helping heal the harm of racism. When we open ourselves to the stories of others, including stories of harm and injustice, we do the work of Christ who calls his disciples to listen, learn, accompany and help heal our wounded world. Restorative practices, as we have seen in our own archdiocese, rightly places the victim-survivor at the center of our concern and compassion, and can lead to greater accountability and justice.

What can Catholics do in response to the persistent harm of racial injustice? First, I am reminded of the wise words of St. Paul VI, who said, if you want peace, work for justice. Peace is the fruit of justice. As Pope Francis noted from St. Peter’s Square this week, violence is never the answer and begets more violence. It is also true that a lack of justice will result in a lack of social harmony and unrest.

Catholics who love peace should diligently work for greater racial justice. Catholic moral teaching provides helpful guidance by calling us to see, judge and act when it comes to issues of justice. To that end, I encourage Catholics: to be well informed on the critical issue of racial justice; to pray to God for wisdom and courage; to compassionately accompany those who experience injustice and to stand up and speak out — so that in our lifetime we would witness authentic justice for all God’s children, and true peace.

Father Griffith, a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, serves as pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes in Minneapolis, Wenger Family Fellow of Law at the University of St. Thomas School of Law and Archdiocesan Liaison for Restorative Justice and Healing.

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Category: The Local Church