Catholics at LARCUM discuss race relations

WHITE OAK — Before the bishops of LARCUM signed their joint statement on May 13 confessing to racism in their churches (see main story), each of the four denominations represented broke out into groups to discuss their particular situations and to come up with potential solutions. The groups also talked about their denomination’s successes and challenges in the area of race relations.

The Catholic leaders represented at LARCUM thought that racism became institutionalized in the southern Church through a lack of concern for promoting a harmony of cultures that are not European. The European Catholic mind-set was not necessarily wrong, but it was, and is, too narrow. The Church was slow to appoint black bishops, they said, and faith communities were regularly segregated by race. Blacks were required for decades to sit either in the back or on the balconies of Catholic churches.Catholic leaders need to be active in welcoming minorities to their parishes and dioceses. Passivity in this regard equates to guilt.

Specific ideas to hasten the healing process among races in the Church included: becoming aware of the racism that is still imbedded in the Catholic Church; becoming more sensitive to offensive stereotypes, especially with children; communicating a genuine welcome to minorities; celebrating the common Catholic heritage among peoples of different races; and hiring blacks and Hispanics to positions of power in the Church.

The Catholics at LARCUM also discussed ways to learn about ending racism from other churches’ experiences. They thought that exchanging religious leaders with other denominations and appointing clergy from outside the south would enable local Catholics to live the Gospel more faithfully with regard to race relations, and they suggested learning from pro-active pastoral leaders of all faith traditions and learning to respect cultural boundaries.

The Church leaders also talked about increasing common worship services and working with other denominations in the secular community.

The Catholics said that challenges they still face include poor attendance at joint religious celebrations, an attorney general who is the highest ranking Catholic state official and who does not foster race relations, difficulties in attracting non-white youths to diocesan programs, a pervasive fear of other races that is the result of ignorance and a poor knowledge and appreciation of other cultures.

They numbered among the Catholic successes in race relations: the women of the SCCCW being fully integrated and working harmoniously since the 1930s; the diocesan support of the Palmetto Project; the success of the Southeastern Pastoral Institute (SEPI) in fostering communion with the Hispanic culture, especially the youth; the appointment of the Bishop of Charleston to the National Conference of African-Americans; Bishop Thompson’s public stands on the Confederate flag and on the death penalty; integrated and successful Catholic schools; the funding from Catholic dioceses to help rebuild black churches destroyed by arson; and the recommendations of the Synod of Charleston, including the formation of the Office of African-American Affairs.

The Catholics at LARCUM discussed briefly how to help the South Carolina Christian Action Council respond more effectively to racism, concluding that the bishops need to put the issue on their agendas more often, pastors need to communicate what is going on in the area of race relations and continued promotion of the Palmetto Project.