Last month, Rob McCann, CEO of Catholic Charities in Eastern Washington, delivered a powerful video message on racism to the staff and clients of Catholic Charities Eastern Washington. His message addressed the work that he, Catholic Charities and the Catholic Church have to do to live up to the gospel message in light of the racial injustice that has plagued our nation. Mr. McCann spoke frankly from his heart about his own privilege and his complicity in the racism that infects all of our institutions, including the Church. The U.S. Catholic Church needs more white people to speak up like Mr. McCann about the sin of racism and how white people have consciously and unconsciously supported systems that harm and kill people of color. Again, the Church is not immune from this critique and many in authority — from Pope Francis to some U.S. bishops — have stated these same sentiments clearly and publicly.
Mr. McCann’s words have touched a nerve within his diocese. He has been chastised by his bishop and his family has been threatened because of what his detractors call “false accusations against ‘whites’ and the Catholic Church”. Much of the negative response to Mr. McCann’s message is what we recognize as an occurrence of “white fragility”, that discomfort and defensiveness on the part of white people when confronted by information about racial inequality and injustice. White fragility has been used to keep our nation and our church from having honest, meaningful conversations about racism, the suffering it has inflicted on people of color, and the damage it causes to the entire human family.
The Black Lives Matter movement has rightly demanded that this conversation no longer be determined by whether or not white people are ready and equipped to have it. Too many people of color are imprisoned, detained, suffering, threatened or dead because of white people’s failure to look at systemic racism squarely, talk about it and be part of the change that is needed. As Catholics, the best of our tradition aligns us to support the call for racial justice at the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement. Such a stance situates us alongside Jesus himself who — with people of color in our country and church today — was also persecuted, oppressed and killed. Pax Christi USA hopes more white Catholics will speak out as Mr. McCann has done, that our white sisters and brothers will claim the work that is theirs to do, and that more Catholic institutions will find the courage and will to humbly examine and uproot the racism that afflicts us all.