by Pearlette E. Springer, M.A., MPhil, ABD
Member, Pax Christi Anti-Racism Team (PCART)

For the past two, three, four years, we have been reminded by the media that we live in a divided country. Divided along the lines of political parties, divided along the line of racial identity, and divided along the line of religious piety and action.

And yet, we continue to insist that religion, race, and politics are forbidden topics for public discussions. They are forbidden because, as a society and as church, we don’t know how to talk about them.

So we don’t talk about them, and we hide behind the fact that we don’t talk about them. We foster the false impression that if we continue to ignore it, it will go away. So we wait for the division along the lines of religion, race, and politics to disappear…

Well, I am the rebel. Religion, race, and politics are my favorite three topics. They are my favorite because they speak to the core of our existence — the core of our spiritual life, the core of our physical life, the core of our emotional life. They are my favorites because when two or three are gathered to discuss the topics that relate to the core of our existence, it brings us closer to knowing who we are and whose we are. It brings us close to knowing God, loving God, and serving God.

I remember being at a parish several years ago assisting with a presentation on intercultural competency with the parish council. At the end of the presentation, the pastor asked me to tell the council a little about myself. When I introduced myself and stated the purpose of the office, one of the white parish council members began to rant and rave and demean and belittle Blacks and the Black community. The pastor and the other five or six white people at the table sat silently. The two or three Hispanics found a reason to quietly leave the room. The two Black parish council members came to my defense. They spoke on behalf of the entire Black community in the city of Indianapolis, while my supervisor stood silently watching.

We can ignore it, pretend it doesn’t exist. But can we separate our individual identity from the social construct we call race? And if we can, can we separate our individual identity from our gathering as the church?

The term race — as we use it to describe people based on skin color, hair texture, eye shape, and thickness of lips — has been defined as a social construct with no scientific backing. In other words, the term race, as it relates to human beings, was created by a small subset of humans in order to artificially advance their own interests at the expense of others. Based solely on physical characteristics. There is evidence that points to the building of this construct as a declaration of the intellectual greatness of people of European descent versus those from the continent of Asia and Africa and the unknown people found in the Americas.

In fact, our racial classification in the United States is rather simple: you are either white, non-white, or Black. Even if you check the other box, you are either a white other, a non-white other, or a Black other. Bi-racial? You are either bi-racial white, bi-racial non-white, or bi-racial Black.

Here is the kicker… African descent? You are classified as Black. You are neither white nor non-white. You’re Black. A category all to itself.

So, what does this have to do with the church?

The universal church follows the same rules based on the false social construct. The Catholic Church, like the members of the parish council, continues to sit back in silence. Sit back in silence while a few members, lay and ordained, rant and rave, demean and belittle and degrade Blacks, Black Catholics, and the entire Black community. Leaving a few Black Catholics to defend the life and human dignity of the entire Black population. So… I’m thinking… we need to learn how to talk about religion, race, and politics. Do you?

For more information, or ideas on how to become more engaged in anti-racism work, contact Pearlette Springer, Chair of the Pax Christi Anti-Racism Team (PCART) at

3 thoughts on “The Catholic Church in Black and White: The Bystander Syndrome

  1. An antiracist lens is the most important lens we can use in deliberating the next steps our Catholic Church needs to take in making change within.

  2. Loved the analysis. I would go one step further and say that not only has the Church been a bystander, but the institutional church as well as some adherents to our faith have been some of the most vociferous proponents of anti black racism. Yes, we need to deepen our anti racism lens and expand our anti racist activity.

  3. To say that the Church is not political, is not paying attention to the realities of the at least, last 20 or 30 years. To say that the Church is not racist is not paying attention to the realities of the past several hundred years.

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