race

Racism in Review: A Look at 68 Homilies in my Archdiocese

The weekend after George Floyd's killing, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis had in our churches both shining lights and horror stories.

After the killing of George Floyd, I worked with a small team of Twin Cities Catholics to review every live-streamed homily in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Our review of 68 homilies over the weekend of May 30 considered four questions:

  1. Was racism mentioned?
  2. Was racism integral to the homily?
  3. Was George Floyd’s name used?
  4. If the parish discussed both racism and riots, which was the primary focus?

Why is this important?

I often come back to Olga Segura’s remark immediately after the killing of George Floyd: “Many black and brown Catholics are turning to the church for solace, only to find, at worst, silence, and at best, a delayed response.” She identifies a national problem in the Church, evidenced by the fact that it took the USCCB about six hours to issue a statement on the Supreme Court’s Bostock decision on sexual orientation and gender identity, but it took six days to issue a statement on Floyd’s gruesome public death by a state official.

Some Twin Cities parishes in our review directly addressed racism and the injustice to George Floyd. Pastors in these churches considered the issue of racial injustice in ways that demonstrate deep reflection. For example, Father R.J. Fichtinger at the Jesuit parish St. Thomas More in St. Paul discussed racism in relation to the coronavirus:

“Racism has a lot in common with the coronavirus. It can go hidden, mysterious, and sometimes unseen by so many people. It can be infectious in a way people don’t even realize. It can often infect those who are unaware, and it can remain hidden inside of people who think they are healthy, who think they’re alright, who think they’re on the side of justice. Racism and the coronavirus can permeate the very fabric of everything it has touched and often can linger on the surface of something, a word that was said, a glance, the way that somebody interacts without anyone even recognizing it. Racism and the coronavirus have caused the deaths of countless thousands of people in this world. Racism and the coronavirus most often manifest themselves in the end, in the lack of the ability to breathe.”

Other parishes responded differently, with condemnations of rioting and looting and comparative apathy towards racism and the killing of George Floyd. This can leave black Catholics feeling that their lives pale in comparison to business and economic interests. Still other parishes have been antagonistic and sarcastic. One Archdiocesan pastor said in his homily: “Shoot, we’re being live streamed. I would normally call people who travel to other places to start riots, burn down buildings, destroyed neighborhoods ‘spawn of Satan’. [Gasp.] Oh I said it, well anyhow it’s what I believe. These people are without the Holy Spirit.” Without waving away the harmful effects of his statements, I credit this particular pastor for apologizing to the community after receiving criticism for his homily. Harmful and dismissive remarks were not limited to that particular parish, however.

At another large Archdiocesan parish, the pastor commented how “the only things that are actually important are religion and politics. They’re the only things that make a difference in the world. And we quench the spirit when we follow political correctness.” His homily discussed a litany of controversial issues, including how the allegation of Trump-Russia collusion was a “lie,” a defense General Flynn, sodomy laws, how “women’s healthcare” is synonymous with abortion, President Trump and Ukraine, the confirmation hearings of Judge Kavanaugh in comparison to the allegations against Joe Biden, mixed messages from the media and experts related to the coronavirus, and the impact of coronavirus restrictions on the economy. At the end, he finally addressed the violence erupting over the previous days in the Twin Cities. But he repurposed the violence for his own socio-political preoccupations, saying: “When the pressure is turned on because of this giant lockdown, some people break out, because of the pressures. Perhaps that’s what’s happening now with all of the violence. Somebody can’t take it anymore.” He mentions neither George Floyd nor racism, but co-opts the Twin Cities’ social anxiety and the death of George Floyd to focus on his own favorite socio-political topics.

What We Found

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis over the weekend of May 30 had in our churches both shining lights and horror stories. This shows an Archdiocese where black Catholics would have entered some churches and found pastors invested in seeing them and their concerns, while other churches eclipse care for our black friends and neighbors with demonizations of looters and political preoccupations. The majority of parishes (65% across the Archdiocese and 45% in the Twin Cities proper) were just silent on the issues which quickly rose to global significance. Neither “racism” nor “George Floyd” merited a single utterance from the majority of our pastors. If we were in school, the Archdiocese as a whole would receive a failing grade. We as a Church would do well to remember the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” That time was the weekend of May 30.

Below gives an overview of what we found from our homily reviews:

TotalsPercentSt. Paul and Minneapolis Churches
Parishes Counted:6820
Racism Mentioned:2435%55%
Racism Integral:1624%35%
George Floyd Mentioned:2131%45%
Neither Racism Nor George Floyd Mentioned:4465%45%

For parishes that discussed racism and looting:

Primary FocusTotalsPercent
Racism:1421%
Riots:46%
Neither:4972%
Both:11%

Limitations

It’s important to admit a number of limitations related to this survey. First, the question of whether racism was integral to the homily was a subjective question, as was the “primary focus” question. The most objective measures would have been whether racism was mentioned and George Floyd’s name was used.

This review also does not capture all of the ways in which race and racism are being addressed in the Archdiocese. For example, the Church of St. Peter Claver (the Archdiocese’s historically black parish) did not discuss George Floyd or racism during its May 30 Sunday homily. The parish has been anything but silent, however. Rather than waiting until Sunday, the pastor issued his own statement days before, directly addressing the killing of George Floyd, white supremacy, and racial equality.

Third, even though the majority of Archdiocesan parishes failed to mention racism or George Floyd in their Sunday homilies immediately after the killing and in the midst of protests, some have taken up the issues since. This includes one parish which I had criticized for an initial response which seemed to me to evidence a relative apathy towards racism. A “gold standard” response for a community experiencing so much suffering that the National Guard had to be called in would have been addressing racism immediately after the issue erupted. However, late is indeed better than never, and my hope is that this experience will lead to a serious cultural examination of conscience in our Church. We must be better prepared to address the issue of racism in the future.


Some resources:


Chris Damian is a writer, speaker, attorney, and business professional living in the Twin Cities. He received his B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and his J.D. and M.A. in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas. He is the author of “I Desired You: Intellectual Journals on Faith and (Homo)sexuality” (volumes I and II). He is also the co-founder of YArespond, a group of Catholic young adults seeking informed and holistic responses to the clergy abuse crisis. In his free time, he enjoys hosting dinner parties and creative writing workshops.

3 comments on “Racism in Review: A Look at 68 Homilies in my Archdiocese

  1. Thank you, Chris, for focusing on racism with your network. Our national and Catholic systems and thus our formation are all constructed by Euro-centric white folks so we need constant reminders of built-in racism. Archbishop Flynn’s letter on racism is an unfulfilled promise to include African American Catholics at the “table.” There is no one at the “table” but the Archbishop, Bishop Cozzens, and the Archdiocesan employees, and they don’t seem amenable to reconstructing systems. Reconstructing systems does not happen unless the leadership is willing and there are diverse people at a real “table.” How is that to happen in this Archdiocese?

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  2. Thanks for this very interesting analysis. I wonder how these numbers differ in other jurisdictions. My hypothesis is that places further away (physically AND racially) are even less likely to mention such things than, say, Minneapolis. But I don’t know.

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  3. Pingback: My Writings on Racism: An Initial Overview – Chris Damian

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