Our Catholic faith asserts a radical solidarity between all of those who make up the human race. Recall how when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he began with these words:
If God is our Father, then all of us are equally members of God’s family, united as beloved sons and daughters of God.
If God is our Father, each of us are brothers and sisters.
As stated at no. 1931 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“Respect for the human person proceeds by way of respect for the principle that “everyone should look upon his neighbor (without any exception) as ‘another self,’ above all bearing in mind his life and the means necessary for living it with dignity.
No legislation could by itself do away with the fears, prejudices, and attitudes of pride and selfishness which obstruct the establishment of truly fraternal societies. Such behavior will cease only through the charity that finds in every man a ‘neighbor,’ a brother.”
Everyone belongs to the human family. This is why Catholic teaching insists that unborn children have the right to life and to be born. Why the elderly and the terminally ill must never be cast aside through euthanasia or assisted suicide. And why even in the cases of those who because of their heinous crimes are a threat to others, they should not be put to death unless there is no other way to protect society.
This is the context on which to reflect on the protest against the proposed removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee by white nationalists, Klansmen and neo-Nazis which resulted in the violent death of a counter-protester and bodily injury to thirteen others last month in Charlottesville, Virginia last month.
There is currently a reasonable, prudential debate in our country about the wisdom of removing monuments that honor Confederate leaders who 150 years ago waged an unsuccessful war against the Union in order to establish a new nation that had as its object the protection and defense of the institution of slavery.
But the racist, white supremacist and anti-Semitic rhetoric and actions of those protesting the removal of that statue are abhorrent and indefensible. Our Church teaches us that “any theory or form whatsoever of racism and racial discrimination is morally unacceptable”; (433 Compendium of the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church) and “racism is not merely one sin among many, it is a radical evil dividing the human family…”(39. USCCB “Brothers and Sisters To Us” 1979)
Let us look at that phrase “radical evil” more closely.
Racism is radical, because racism, white supremacy and anti-Semitism strike at the roots (radix in Latin) of human dignity, solidarity, unity and community. There are no superior or inferior races.
The Catechism at no. 1934 teaches us:
“Created in the image of the one God and equally endowed with rational souls, all men have the same nature and the same origin. Redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, all are called to participate in the same divine beatitude: all therefore enjoy an equal dignity.”
In addition to racism based on skin color (as in the case of racist hatred of African-Americans and other people of color), modern anti-Semitism is also a form of racism. Anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi groups who hate and fear Jews have convinced themselves (wrongly) that the Jewish people are a biologically distinct racial group engaged in a nefarious international Communist/capitalist/Zionist conspiracy to manipulate and control the news media, finance and education to the detriment of those who are not members of their “race”. As preposterous and absurd as this prejudice is, when the Nazis took power in Germany, racial anti-Semitism provided the ideological rationale for first the persecution and then the almost complete destruction of the Jews of Europe during the Second World War.
Racism is evil and gravely sinful, offenses against both God and our neighbor. We know from the brutal history of racism, white supremacy and anti-Semitism, in our own country and around the world, that the obscene ideology and depraved idolatry of race has been used to justify contempt and hatred of those deemed to be racially inferior. It is morally indefensible.
Since the Civil Rights era of the 1960’s, as a nation we have made enormous progress in overcoming racial prejudice, discrimination and hatred. Yet, the tiny minority of those who openly espouse and promote racist or white supremacist or neo-Nazi beliefs appear to believe that at this time in our history their message will have a wider resonance, confident that there continues to remain elements in our society who are receptive to or tolerant of their repugnant ideas.
For this reason, it is important to restate in the clearest possible terms: the Catholic Church unreservedly condemns, rejects and opposes the hateful and immoral ideologies of hatred for African-Americans, other people of color and the Jewish people, as well as immigrants and Muslims. Our Church and its leaders stand in solidarity with all those who, because of their skin color, ethnicity, immigration status, national origin or religion are the targets of racist hatred, discrimination and violence.
Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, concluded his remarks on what happened last month in Charlotteville in these words:
“Charlottesville matters. It’s a snapshot of our public unraveling into real hatreds brutally expressed; a collapse of restraint and mutual respect now taking place across the country. We need to keep the images of Charlottesville alive in our memories. If we want a different kind of country in the future, we need to start today with a conversion in our own hearts, and an insistence on the same in others. That may sound simple. But the history of our nation and its tortured attitudes toward race proves exactly the opposite.”