Phoenix Bishop: Catholics Cannot Remain Indifferent to Racism

Bishop Olmsted said he has seen racial discrimination manifest itself among some Catholics in Arizona.

Bishop Thomas Olmsted.
Bishop Thomas Olmsted. (photo: Diocese of Phoenix.)

PHOENIX, Ariz. — Catholics have a key part to play— in cooperation with God’s grace— in overcoming racism, the bishop of Phoenix said at the diocesan Mass for Forgiveness of the Sin of Racism this week.

“George Floyd did not die alone. Jesus was with him—praying with him and for him. At every time and every place, Jesus draws near to every person, especially in times of suffering and at the hour of death,” Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix said in the homily June 8.

As the Church gathers to pray for forgiveness for the sin of racism, Olmsted said, it is important to define what Catholics mean by the term.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers guidance, he said, defining it as “unjust discrimination on the basis of a person’s race.”

In Paragraph 1935 of the Catechism, it says “every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God's design.”

Bishop Olmsted said he has seen racial discrimination manifest itself among some Catholics in Arizona. Nearly half of Phoenix’s pastors were born in other countries, he said, and sadly not all have been received well by Catholics in the diocese.

For example, “on the day that I installed one of our finest pastors, protestors came to the parking lot and distributed flyers on car windows denouncing the bishop for replacing their beloved former pastor with ‘these Africans,’” Bishop Olmsted said.

The Church provides, through the Sacrament of Confession, a means by which those who have perpetuated the sin of racism can seek God’s mercy.

“The rich mercy of God restores human dignity, even to the most hardened of sinners, if we have the humility to say six words: ‘I am sorry. Please forgive me,’” he said.

Jesus himself, and saints like Pope John Paul II, have modeled the kind of forgiveness that is necessary for healing from racism, Bishop Olmsted said.

“[Racism] is overcome by God, by His mercy. It is not our achievement. We have a key part to play, in cooperation with His grace, but only God can change minds and hearts. That’s why the Sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist play such vital roles in overcoming the sin of racism,” Olmsted said.

In responding to racism, Catholics— even if they are not themselves racist— must not allow their hearts to harden, frozen by indifference, and simply fail to respond altogether, Bishop Olmsted said.

“While racism is a sinful act that prejudice, injustice, and lack of respect for human dignity brings about, racism also hides itself behind indifference. Racists may not get caught because they are doing “nothing.” But, in Jesus’ description of the Last Judgment, found in Matthew 25:4, sin is depicted not as what people did but ‘what they failed to do,’” he said.

Bishop Olmsted recalled that during March 2000, Pope John Paul II led the whole Church in a Day of Pardon, in which he asked the entire Church to place itself “before Christ, who out of love, took our guilt upon Himself,” and to make a “profound examination of conscience,” and to “forgive and ask forgiveness.”

“Inspired by the example of St. John Paul II, let us beg the Lord Jesus, at this Mass, for the grace we need to overcome the evil of racism and to build a society of Jesus and solidarity,” Bishop Olmsted concluded.

The March for the Martyrs in Washington, D.C., Sept. 25, 2021.

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“I’ve heard it myself from the people of Iraq and Syria: when the Islamists come to cut your head off, they don’t ask if you’re a Catholic or a Protestant or Orthodox. They ask you if you believe in Jesus,” said Father Kiely. “That’s that point. That unites us. That’s what Pope Francis called ‘the ecumenism of blood.’”