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Every generation must confront racism until it can be eradicated from society

102320bishop council racism

Maggie Cobble, a St. Paul of Valparaiso parishioner and member of the diocesan social teaching commission makes remarks during a presentation about the challenge of racism, at the diocesan pastoral council meeting at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage on Oct. 8. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)



Northwest Indiana Catholic


      PORTAGE – Racism, and how it can be rooted out in the Diocese of Gary, was the main subject as Bishop Robert J. McClory and members of the diocesan Social Teaching Commission met with the Diocesan Pastoral Council on Oct. 8 at Nativity of Our Savior.

      Everyone agreed that Catholic Social Teaching brands racism as a grave sin, but there was concern expressed that not enough Catholic youth learn about the evil of racism and the principles of Catholic Social Teaching in faith formation classes and parochial school theology classes.

      Bishop McClory made it clear that he is anxious to address such shortcomings with strong and decisive action, and the members of the Social Teaching Commission agreed.

      “Racism is a challenge for every generation. Every generation is called upon to consider this sin again,” said the bishop in opening up the discussion.

      As proof of his statement, the bishop offered some historical perspective. Switching from the ring he was given at his ordination, Bishop McClory said he instead chose to wear “another ring that is part of the patrimony of Bishop (Andrew G.) Grutka,” the Diocese of Gary’s first prelate.

      “It was given to him by Pope Paul VI at the Second Vatican Council, which Bishop Grutka participated in – it is a real Council ring – and it is an extraordinary memento,” Bishop McClory explained as he held it up to the audience. “It is especially appropriate in light of our topic tonight.

      Not all of the participants at the Second Vatican Council addressed the gathering, Bishop McClory pointed out, “but Bishop Grutka made an intervention (Oct. 28, 1964) that got into the New York Times. It was a powerful denunciation of racial discrimination, which he called a ‘challenge to Divine Providence.’” Some form of hate or disrespect can be found in every act of racial segregation, Bishop Grutka said, and every form of racial segregation and discrimination should be denounced with the strength of the trumpets of Jericho.

      In speaking, Bishop Grutka called for the Council document condemning racism to be even stronger than proposed, Bishop McClory said.

      A generation later, noted Bishop McClory, Bishop Dale J. Melczek “launched an ongoing, continuing movement” to address the evils of racism with a pastoral letter and multi-year series of parish reflections, listening sessions and concrete actions.

      That leads to the current generation, which is again confronting racism in light of recent protests in response to a series of deaths of Black people resulting from encounters with law enforcement officers, said Bishop McClory. “Instances of racism move underground, then continue to rise up,” he noted. “With the killing of George Floyd – and he’s not the only one – there’s a new elevation of racism to a wider audience.”

      Members of the Diocese of Gary’s Social Teaching Commission, established after the 2017 synod “to support parish synod plans and advocate on Catholic social teaching issues,” according to moderator Beth Casbon, also offered their viewpoint at the Oct. 8 meeting.

      Deacon Frank Zolvinski, of the LaPorte Community Churches and a commission member, suggested that while the Catholic Church is doing better at teaching that racism is a grave sin in faith formation classes than previously, improvements are still needed. “Let us pray, as lay Catholics, that we never remain neutral,” he said.

      Deacon Zolvinski encouraged a careful and complete study of the seven Principles of Catholic Social Teaching as a way to teach about the evils of racism. “Among the seven themes are The Dignity of the Human Person, which calls for the protection of human life at every stage of development,” the deacon noted. “Every human being has value and worth – a Black person as much as a white person.

      “Another theme is The Common Good, which says everyone’s needs in society should be provided for – black lives do matter – and we must work to reverse that injustice and support a more equitable distribution of wealth and goods,” Deacon Zolvinski said.

      The third of the social teaching themes he highlighted was The Option for the Poor, “recognizing ‘white privilege,’ slavery and its effects as the original sin of our country,” the deacon said.

      “As we work for justice and an end to racism, we must bring our prayer to God, too,” Deacon Zolvinski said. “With active prayer comes hope that an end to racism can become a reality. Our youth and young adults provide the key to changing that ‘best kept secret’ that racism is a sin and racism can be exposed for the sin it is.”

      Also addressing the council was Adeline Torres, diocesan director of the Office of Intercultural Ministry, who called racism a “mortal disgrace. We were not born that way, and that’s why we must eradicate it. It can never be justified.”

      She also noted that “the love of God and love of thy neighbor is so linked (in Catholic Church teaching) that he who does not love thy neighbor does not know God.”

      Her four recommendations for ending racism on an individual basis were: “Find opportunities to get to know your neighbors and acquire the resources to make their lives easier; pray with them and allow them to teach you how they pray, which may be very different than how you pray; include people of all colors in all decisions before planning, and remember that they see things through a different lens; and have our diocese, parishes and schools, reflect all of our people, which is another way to get to know your neighbor.

      “People will understand your intent if you show them kindness, love and acceptance,” Torres concluded.

      “Having this conversation is the first step, but we need to have things happen (in our diocese),” stressed Casbon. “People in the diocese who have had eight years of faith formation and don’t know that racism is a sin – we can change that. But how can we address racism when everyone in the room is white? That’s a problem in some of our parishes – and in this room.”

      Bishop McClory acknowledged to the council members that hearing about the evils of racism that still exist, “is a lot to receive,” causing both moments that were “uncomfortably silent and tremendously verbose.”

      Yet, he added, confronting social teaching issues “can be very healing and illuminating, and can propel us to deeper reflection to see how we should respond.”


      (This is the second  installment of a two-part series on the issues raised at the Oct. 8 Diocesan Pastoral Council meeting, the first since Bishop Robert J. McClory was installed as prelate of the Diocese of Gary, due to the restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Part I was published in the Oct. 18 issue of the Northwest Indiana Catholic.)


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