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Bishops across US give passionate response to death of George Floyd

Ricardo ARDUENGO / AFP

Kathleen N. Hattrup - published on 06/02/20

While calling for peaceful protests, bishops say they are "sickened," with "horror and disgust" at this death and the "history here" of "humiliation, indignity, and unequal opportunity"

For an official response to the killing of George Floyd, the US bishops called on the heads of a handful of its internal departments, ranging from the pro-life office, to the offices dedicated to domestic justice, human development, cultural diversity and African American affairs.

The joint statement from the seven bishops said they 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 maintained that racism is “not a thing of the past” and that “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.”

The statement was released already May 29, four days after Floyd was killed, but in the midst of protests that are still continuing into this week across the country.

“While it is expected that we will plead for peaceful non-violent protests, and we certainly do, we also stand in passionate support of communities that are understandably outraged. Too many communities around this country feel their voices are not being heard, their complaints about racist treatment are unheeded, and we are not doing enough to point out that this deadly treatment is antithetical to the Gospel of Life,” the bishops said.

Read the full statement here, with the link to the US bishops’ recent pastoral letter on racism.

Two days later, as protests continued, the bishop of the Church’s largest diocese, Los Angeles, and the current president of the body of US bishops, added his own statement:

Archbishop José Gomez said Floyd’s death was “senseless and brutal, a sin that cries out to heaven for justice.”

“How is it possible that in America, a black man’s life can be taken from him while calls for help are not answered, and his killing is recorded as it happens?,” the archbishop said. “I am praying for George Floyd and his loved ones, and on behalf of my brother bishops, I share the outrage of the black community and those who stand with them in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, and across the country.”

While affirming that the “cruelty” and “violence” that Floyd suffered, “does not reflect on the majority of good men and women in law enforcement, who carry out their duties with honor,” still, the archbishop said, “We should all understand that the protests we are seeing in our cities reflect the justified frustration and anger of millions of our brothers and sisters who even today experience humiliation, indignity, and unequal opportunity only because of their race or the color of their skin. It should not be this way in America. Racism has been tolerated for far too long in our way of life.”

These official statements from the hierarchy of the bishops are echoed by similar declarations still being made by individual bishops across the country.

Coast to coast

One of Archbishop Gomez’s auxiliaries, well known Bishop Robert Barron, offered a full reflection on it, found here.

And on the other coast, Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley noted how the death of Floyd shows the disconnect in the lived experience of the African American community from the experience of the wider community.

There is a history here, one documented over decades in print, and now in social media and on television in our homes. The history is clear and tragic: George Floyd was an African American man who died at the hands of a police officer. This is a narrative which has been repeated often and in multiple locations across the country. The history is well documented, but it is known experientially in the African American community in a way that is not widely shared. The wider community is aware of some cases, but the African American community lives with the experience and memories of these deaths in an entirely different way. It is a daily reality – one they must speak to their children about and live themselves with some fear.

Cardinal O’Malley also urged peace in the protests: “In responding to his death, some have used violence. I can understand the frustration but I must strongly oppose those methods. For any of us, the singular voice of Dr. Martin Luther King still rings true: ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.'”

Other bishops

The protests have occurred in as many as 140 cities, and at least five people have died in the skirmishes. Many other bishops have spoken out in response to the situation. Here, just a selection:

From the Commission of Religious Leaders chaired by New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

We often speak of “thoughts and prayers.” We will offer our many prayers of healing, but we need not only serious thoughts but also firm action as we work together with all members of our community to find that critical cure for human hatred.

From the midwest, from Bishop Carl Kemme of Wichita, Kansas.

Like many in our country, I too have looked upon the events of Monday, May 25, 2020, concerning the arrest and death of Mr. George Floyd, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, with horror and disgust. While I was raised to give respect and extraordinary consideration to all in public office, especially the police, who are charged to protect, the actions of the police officers in this situation are to be condemned. No one, regardless of circumstances, deserves to be treated in such an inhumane manner.

From Minneapolis, the site of Floyd’s death, from Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda.

The video of George Floyd in police custody Monday evening is gut wrenching and deeply disturbing. The sadness and pain are intense. Let us pray for comfort for his grieving family and friends, peace for a hurting community and prudence while the process moves forward. We need a full investigation that results in rightful accountability and veritable justice. Particularly at this time when human fragility has been brought into focus by the Covid-19 pandemic, we are called to respect the worth and dignity of each individual, whether they be civilians in need of protection or law enforcement officers charged with providing that protection. All human life is sacred. Please join our Catholic community in praying for George Floyd and his family, and working for that day when “love and truth will meet [and] justice and peace will kiss” (Psalm 85).

And from Houston, where Floyd grew up and where he will be buried, from Cardinal Daniel DiNardo.

The Bishops of Texas recently issued a message of prayers and condolences to the family of George Floyd for the events in Minnesota earlier this week. I want to add my own pastoral concern as George Floyd grew up in Houston. Many of his family and friends are still here and I speak my own sorrow for his death. I also want to ask for the renewal of action that leads to the end of racism. This reality still lingers in our society today, even in Houston. We must continue to work to end this scourge on society.
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