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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Catholic Social Teaching and Racial Justice

Within the Catholic tradition, conversations around racial justice should include reference to papal encyclicals and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) documents that challenge us to have a robust commitment to ending all types of prejudice in our culture.

It is through the document Open Wide our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love, A pastoral Letter Against Racism that we are most currently and explicitly called, as Catholics, to address all of the ways that racism impacts our world. Acknowledgement, awareness, reflection, and healing can happen if we dedicate time to dialogue with those who have different backgrounds and life experiences. We must open wide our hearts to one another and to God’s Word.

Notable Terms

List of 3 items.

  • Human Dignity

    • From the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The dignity of the human person is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God”.
    • In the lived experience of the Church, human dignity can be protected and a healthy community can be achieved only if human rights are protected and responsibilities are met. Therefore, every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency.
    • The Catholic Church proclaims that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. This belief is the foundation of all the principles of our social teaching. We believe that every person is precious, that people are more important than things, and that the measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person.
  • Common Good

    • In theological terms, the common good is defined in Pope John XXIII’s encyclical Mater et Magistra (On Christianity and Social Progress, 1961) as “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.” 
    • From The Catechism of Catholic Church:
    “The common good concerns the life of all. It calls for prudence from each, and even more from those who exercise the office of authority. It consists of three essential elements: 

    First, the common good presupposes respect for the person as such. In the name of the common good, public authorities are bound to respect the fundamental and inalienable rights of the human person. Society should permit each of its members to fulfill his vocation. In particular, the common good resides in the conditions for the exercise of the natural freedoms indispensable for the development of the human vocation, such as "the right to act according to a sound norm of conscience and to safeguard . . . privacy, and rightful freedom also in matters of religion.

    Second, the common good requires the social well-being and development of the group itself. Development is the epitome of all social duties. Certainly, it is the proper function of authority to arbitrate, in the name of the common good, between various particular interests; but it should make accessible to each what is needed to lead a truly human life: food, clothing, health, work, education and culture, suitable information, the right to establish a family, and so on.

    Finally, the common good requires peace, that is, the stability and security of a just order. It presupposes that authority should ensure by morally acceptable means the security of society and
    its members. It is the basis of the right to legitimate personal and collective defense.”
    • Solidarity

      The common good as a foundational principle is closely intertwined with Human dignity and leads to solidarity*. In Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (1987) John Paul II says the following:

      "When interdependence becomes recognized …, the correlative response as a moral and social attitude, as a 'virtue,' is solidarity. This then is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all." (para. 38)

      *Solidarity is also one of the 7 Themes of Catholic Social Teaching, which are highlighted as the first guiding principle for instruction and formation in the Catholic Social Responsibility Guidebook for Catholic Schools.

    USCCB Documents

    List of 3 items.

    • Open Wide our Hearts, 2018

      • “Racism can often be found in our hearts—in many cases placed there unwillingly or unknowingly by our upbringing and culture. As such, it can lead to thoughts and actions that we do not even see as racist, but nonetheless flow from the same prejudicial root. Consciously or subconsciously, this attitude of superiority can be seen in how certain groups of people are vilified, called criminals, or are perceived as being unable to contribute to society, even unworthy of its benefits.”
      • “…each of us should adopt the words of Pope Francis as our own: let no one ‘think that this invitation is not meant for him or her.’ All of us are in need of personal, ongoing conversion. Our churches and our civic and social institutions are in need of ongoing reform. If racism is confronted by addressing its causes and the injustice it produces, then healing can occur. In that transformed reality, the headlines we see all too often today will become lessons from the past.”
      • “Too many good and faithful Catholics remain unaware of the connection between institutional racism and the continued erosion of the sanctity of life. We are not finished with the work. The evil of racism festers in part because, as a nation, there has been very limited formal acknowledgement of the harm done to so many, no moment of atonement, no national process of reconciliation and, all too often a neglect of our history.”
      • “As Christians, we are called to listen and know the stories of our brothers and sisters.”
      • “To work at ending racism, we need to engage the world and encounter others—to see, maybe for the first time, those who are on the peripheries of our own limited view. Knowing that the Lord has taken the divine initiative by loving us first, we can boldly go forward, reaching out to others. We must invite into dialogue those we ordinarily would not seek out. We must work to form relationships with those we might regularly try to avoid. This demands that we go beyond ourselves, opening our minds and hearts to value and respect the experiences of those who have been harmed by the evil of racism.”
      • “Here we call on our religious education programs, Catholic schools, and Catholic publishing companies to develop curricula relating to racism and reconciliation. Our campus ministers should plan young adult reflections and discussions that strive to build pathways toward racial equality and healing.”
    • Brothers and Sisters to Us, 1979

      • “Mindful of its duty to be the advocate for those who hunger and thirst for justice's sake, the church cannot remain silent about the racial injustices in society and its own structures."
      • “Racism is the sin that says some human beings are inherently superior and others essentially inferior because of race."
      • "Crude and blatant expression of racist sentiment, though they occasionally exist, are today considered bad form. Yet racism itself persists in convert ways. Under the guise of other motives, it is manifest in the tendency to stereotype and marginalize whole segments of the population whose presence perceived as a threat."
      • "Today's racism flourishes in the triumph of private concern over public responsibility, individual success over social commitment, and personal fulfillment over authentic compassion."
      • “There must be no turning back along the road of justice, no sighing for bygone times of privilege, no nostalgia for simple solutions from another age. For we are children of the age to come, when the first shall be last and the last first, when blessed are they who serve Christ the Lord in all His brothers and sisters, especially those who are poor and suffer injustice.”
    • Additional USCCB Resources

      On the USCCB website, there are corresponding background reflections/conversations that extend to contemporary issues in light of the teachings in Open Wide Our Hearts. These are extremely helpful and help support that our Church very much sees an intersection of poverty and racism in our culture.

      Click here for additional USCCB resources; scroll down to the section entitled “Backgrounders”.

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