Memphis bishop: there is a subtle racism in the Catholic church

Two Catholic bishops are raising the question of whether opposition to President Obama from within their church is a sign of racism. Archbishop (emeritus) Quinn is white. Bishop Steib is black.

Back in March, the Most Rev. John R. Quinn, archbishop emeritus of San Francisco, wrote:

If the president is forced to withdraw [from appearing University of Notre Dame], how will that fact be used? Will it be used to link the church with racist and other extremist elements in our country? Will the banishment of the first African-American president from Catholic university campuses be seen as grossly insensitive to the heritage of racial hatred which has burdened our country for far too long?

We must weigh very seriously the consequences if the American bishops are seen as the agents of the public embarrassment of the newly elected president by forcing him to withdraw from an appearance at a distinguished Catholic university.

In September 12th address Catholic Bishop Terry Steib of Memphis said,

You may ask, “What do you mean by subtle racism? Well, recently and particularly because of the awarding of a degree to President Obama at the University of Notre Dame, the question racism among the bishops of the country has been raised. I am only raising it because Archbishop Quinn in an article in the America Magazine said that continuing confrontation with President Obama and his administration sends the message that the bishops are insensitive to the heritage and continued existence of racism in America…..

When President Obama was inaugurated four buses full of African Americans Catholics drove for more than 19 hours to be present for the historic moment, but they felt that their celebration was muted because they had heard that so many of our bishops did not seem to understand the significant moment. They seemed not to understand what the whole world took to heart – that President Obama’s election was creating or beginning a whole new era that rejected racial stereotypes and it was opening the door to more embracing international relationships. But many of our Church did not share that jubilation.

And this people, I will admit to you too: Nothing was done during other administrations, nothing was said when other presidents who favored the war in Iraq with its constant killing, or who favored capital punishment were given awards in the name of the Church, even though those presidents were not adhering to Catholic Right to Life principles. Because of his clearly unacceptable stand on abortion many who are leaders in the church are willing to pillory President Obama with direct confrontation rather than with clear moral teaching about abortion and public law.

Many thanks to Dan Burke of RNS Blog and to Lou Baldwin of the Catholic Standard & Times for bringing Steib’s remarks to our attention.

Would a white Democratic president with the same views on abortion ever have been invited to Notre Dame? Would that invitation receive the same negative reaction? Even if the answers are no and yes, does a church have a special responsibility to be sensitive to the heritage of slavery and racial hatred in this country, and to share in the jubilation in the historic election of the country’s first black president?

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