Confronting racism is difficult yet essential work to heal the brokenness in our society and our church. Racial Justice and the Catholic Church examines the presence of racism in this country from its early history through the Civil Rights Movement and the election of Barack Obama. It also explores how Catholic social teaching has been used—and not used—to combat racism and promote reconciliation and justice.
Lamenting that he sometimes feels “like a motherless child... a long ways from home” in his own church, Massingale, a black priest and moral theologian, levels a strong indictment of the Catholic response to racial injustice in this review and analysis. After answering the question “What is racism?” at some length, Massingale delves into Catholic history on the issue, taking apart three documents on racial justice from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1958, 1968, and 1979. Although he says the last two improved on the first, which offered nothing in the way of recommendations for action, none was marked by the depth of social analysis found in many of the bishops’ other social justice documents. To improve Catholic engagement in racial justice, Massingale proposes using such resources of the tradition as the practice of lament, compassion, solidarity, conversion, baptism, and Eucharist. The author’s moving personal reflections add a human face to his message, which readers who have a heart for social justice will no doubt find to be prophetic. (Feb.)
When the U.S. Catholic Bishops published their 2007 pastoral statement "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship", some wondered why racism was given attention along with abortion and other pro-life concerns. Fr. Massingale's book does a good job, I think, in explaining why racism is an important issue for Catholics. While abortion remains the foundational issue for Catholics ("a person can't enjoy human rights if he or she is not alive to receive them"), Massingale shows that after birth, a person's human dignity remains under attack, in this case because of racism. In other words, even if the Civil Rights movement seemed successful in eliminating the effects of racial discrimination, the effects of that same discrimination still lingers in the unwritten and unspoken way people think and act towards one another. I do not think Massingale is advocating that we ignore abortion, especially considering that African Americans have one of the highest abortion rates in the country. Rather, he is making the case that we must be aware that racism is still alive, even if things appear to be better for racial minorities now in comparison to what they were even 40 years ago. Hence, combating the effects of racism is consistent with Catholic social action.
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