Open Letter to Church Officials Calls for Racial Justice
In 2003 Archbishop Harry Flynn of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis courageously confronted the realities of racism in his Pastoral Letter, “In God’s Image: Pastoral Letter on Racism.” In the Preface he writes, “…our God is a God of love and justice, a God who made all of us in His image. Racism is a denial of that fact. It is an offense against God. I realize that the subject of race can be a very difficult one for all of us. Yet, I am convinced that we must address it with honesty and courage for it remains a significant and sinful reality in our midst.”
I read these words for the first time just a few days before Jamar Clark was murdered by two Minneapolis police officers. Jamar was unarmed and many witnesses said he was hand-cuffed when he was shot. After Jamar was killed and during the subsequent weeks of protests and occupation of the 4th Police Precinct, we at the Minneapolis Catholic Worker poured hours of energy and time maintaining a presence at the occupation and trying to be helpful to the incredible Black Lives Matter Minneapolis leadership. Over the eighteen days of near-constant protest, members of our community were arrested in an act of peaceful civil disobedience on Interstate 94, maced and beaten with clubs by police.
For many in our mostly white community, these were our first experiences witnessing at close range the violence baked into the American police system. During these weeks of protest, we glimpsed the police violence almost exclusively shouldered by people of color and poor people both at the 4th Precinct protests and on any given day in Minneapolis.
During this time of intensity and near constant worry, I relied heavily on prayer and my Catholic faith. I found solace and strength in remembering Jesus’ life of loving civil disobedience and the Catholic emphasis on an incarnational worldview, one that sees God’s love embedded in creation. My faith fueled my activism I found myself searching for other Catholics active in these important anti-racism protests. I was happy to see members of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and several Jesuit novices at the protests. But I found myself also looking toward the Archdiocese, the local embodiment of the institutional Church, for words of encouragement, solidarity, or support. After all, many other religious institutions released powerful public statements standing in solidarity with the #Justice4Jamar protests. Why wouldn’t the Archdiocese—with its rich history of anti-racism sentiment exemplified within Archbishop Flynn’s pastoral letter—take a stand against the racist system that killed Jamar Clark? Surely a Church so rooted in a message of unconditional love and dedicated to a “pro-life” identity could not remain silent in the face of such cold-blooded, state-sanctioned murder. Unfortunately, over the month of protest I was left wanting in any show of solidarity from the Archdiocese.
My heart breaks in the midst of such apathy from my Church in regards to this important and necessary human rights movement. For the St. Paul/Minneapolis Archdiocese to maintain its current state of silence around the murder of Jamar Clark is to consent to what Archbishop Flynn calls “an offense against God”.
I urge Archbishop Hebda and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to release a public statement that both condemns the murder of Jamar Clark by the Minneapolis Police Department and acknowledges the systemic racism deeply embedded in our state. This racism creates a racial disparity gap in Minnesota that is one of the worst in the nation. It is indeed a social sin that our faith tradition compels us to eradicate. Such a statement from the Archdiocese could move hundreds of thousands of white Minnesotan Catholics to deeper discernment about how we both enact and benefit from systemic racism, and how we can embody Jesus’ message of social justice in confronting this aberration of God’s creation. I believe it’s their moral and holy obligation to use their position of power and privilege within the Church to encourage Minnesotan Catholics to boldly confront the realities of racism.
We are in the midst of a racial justice social movement similar in scale and importance to what took shape in the American South in the 1960’s. I, and many other Catholics I know, will work tirelessly to ensure our Church plays a positive role in what is unfolding. I hope you will join us.
Joe Kruse works with The Minneapolis Catholic Worker/Rye House Community.