U.S. bishops approve pastoral letter against racism

  • Written by Northwest Catholic
  • Published in National
Bishop Shelton Fabre, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism. Photo: Courtesy Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux Bishop Shelton Fabre, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism. Photo: Courtesy Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux

BALTIMORE – The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved a formal statement against racism Wednesday, November 14, during its Fall General Assembly. The pastoral letter, entitled “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love,” was approved by a two-thirds majority vote of 241-3 with one abstention.

The USCCB Cultural Diversity in the Church Committee, chaired by Archbishop Gustavo-Garcia-Siller, M.Sp.S., of San Antonio, Texas, spearheaded the letter's drafting and guided it through the voting process.

In a statement released by the USCCB, Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism and chair of the Sub-committee on African American Affairs within the Cultural Diversity Committee, said: “The entire body of bishops felt the need to address the topic of racism, once again, after witnessing the deterioration of the public discourse, and episodes of violence and animosity with racial and xenophobic overtones, that have re-emerged in American society in the last few years. Pastoral letters from the full body of bishops are rare, few and far between. But at key moments in history the bishops have come together for important pronouncements, paying attention to a particular issue and with the intention of offering a Christian response, full of hope, to the problems of our time. This is such a time.”

The Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism was created in August 2017 to address racism in society and the church. “Open Wide Our Hearts” is a pastoral letter from the full body of bishops to the lay faithful and all people of goodwill addressing the sin of racism. 

According to the USCCB release, the new pastoral letter asks people to recall that we are all brothers and sisters, all equally made in the image of God. Because we all bear the image of God, racism is above all a moral and theological problem that manifests institutionally and systematically. Only a deep individual conversion of heart, which then multiplies, will compel change and reform in our institutions and society. It is imperative to confront racism’s root causes and the injustice it produces. The love of God binds us together. This same love should overflow into our relationships with all people. The conversions needed to overcome racism require a deep encounter with the living God in the person of Christ who can heal all division.

It has been nearly 40 years since the U.S. bishops spoke collectively on race issues in the United States. In 1979, they approved “Brothers and Sisters to Us: A Pastoral Letter on Racism in Our Day,” which asserted: “Racism is a sin: a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father.” With the newly approved pastoral letter, the bishops seek to continue the message of “Brothers and Sisters to Us.”

The full text of the letter, as well as accompanying resources, will be posted here.