Leaders of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) released a statement Friday responding to the death of George Floyd, an African American man killed in Minneapolis last week, by emphasizing that racism is a life issue and not a thing of the past. Archbishop José Gomez, president of the USCCB, also released a statement responding to Floyd’s death and the violence and unrest that erupted during the weekend.
In the statement released on Friday, Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez of Philadelphia, Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, Bishop Joseph C. Bambera of Scranton, Bishop David G. O’Connell, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, and Bishop Joseph N. Perry, auxiliary bishop of Chicago wrote:
“We are broken-hearted, sickened, and outraged to watch another video of an African American man being killed before our very eyes. What’s more astounding is that this is happening within mere weeks of several other such occurrences. This is the latest wake-up call that needs to be answered by each of us in a spirit of determined conversion.”
The bishops referred to their most recent pastoral letter on racism, Open Wide Our Hearts, by stressing that race issues are life issues.
“Racism is not a thing of the past,” they stated. “It is a real and present danger that must be met head on. As members of the Church, we must stand for the more difficult right and just actions instead of the easy wrongs of indifference. We cannot turn a blind eye to these atrocities and yet still try to profess to respect every human life. We serve a God of love, mercy, and justice.”
In his statement released Sunday, Archbishop Gomez of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles responded to the death of Floyd by echoing many of the sentiments of his fellow bishops. He also addressed the violence and unrest that erupted in several cities over the weekend by acknowledging that racial injustice causes great pain, but that healing cannot come through violence.
“It is true what Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, that riots are the language of the unheard,” he said. “We should be doing a lot of listening right now. This time, we should not fail to hear what people are saying through their pain. We need to finally root out the racial injustice that still infects too many areas of American society.”
“But the violence of recent nights is self-destructive and self-defeating. Nothing is gained by violence and so much is lost. Let us keep our eyes on the prize of true and lasting change.”
Hundreds of peaceful protests took place across the country this weekend, and Archbishop Gomez emphasized the need to not let these peaceful protests be overshadowed by violence and destruction.
He said, “Legitimate protests should not be exploited by persons who have different values and agendas. Burning and looting communities, ruining the livelihoods of our neighbors, does not advance the cause of racial equality and human dignity.”
The death of George Floyd has sparked a national conversation, and Archbishop Gomez encouraged the faithful to honor his life by uniting in a common goal of justice and peace.
“We should not let it be said that George Floyd died for no reason,” he said. “We should honor the sacrifice of his life by removing racism and hate from our hearts and renewing our commitment to fulfill our nation’s sacred promise — to be a beloved community of life, liberty, and equality for all.”