Bishops overwhelmingly OK pastoral against racism

BALTIMORE — The U.S. bishops overwhelmingly approved a pastoral letter against racism Nov. 14 during their fall general meeting at Baltimore.

The document, “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love — A Pastoral Letter Against Racism,” passed 241-3 with one abstention. It required a two-thirds vote by all bishops, or 183 votes, for passage.

“Despite many promising strides made in our country, racism still infects our nation,” the pastoral letter says. “Racist acts are sinful because they violate justice. They reveal a failure to acknowledge the human dignity of the persons offended, to recognize them as the neighbors Christ calls us to love,” it adds.

Bishops speaking on the pastoral gave clear consent to the letter’s message.

“This statement is very important and very timely,” said Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky. He appreciated that the letter took note of the racism suffered by African-Americans and Native Americans, “two pieces of our national history that we have not reconciled.”

“This will be a great, fruitful document for discussion,” said Bishop Barry Knestout of Richmond, Virginia, in whose diocese the violence-laden “Unite the Right” rally was held last year. Bishop Knestout added that the diocese has already conducted listening sessions on racism.

In other action, the bishops:

• Approved their 2019 budget Nov. 14 by a 223-12 vote with six abstentions, reflecting increased expenses related to the new clergy sex abuse crisis. It also reflects, according to Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati, USCCB treasurer, the downward trend in the USCCB’s Office of Migration and Refugee Service’s budget due to federal policy changes.

The 2018 budget estimates abuse-related costs at $500,000, he added, “and as much as $1 million for 2019.” The figures do not include $250,000 for what Archbishop Schnurr called a “communications surge project.”

• Gave their assent Nov. 14 to the canonization effort launched for Sister Thea Bowman by the Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi. The “canonical consultation” with the body of U.S. bishops is a step in the Catholic Church’s process toward declaring a person a saint.

Sister Thea, a Mississippi native and the only African-American member of her order, the Wisconsin-based Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, was a widely known speaker, evangelizer and singer until she died of cancer in 1990 at age 52. She even made a presentation at the U.S. bishops’ spring meeting in 1989, moving some prelates to tears.

• Voted 157-87 for Bishop Gregory Parkes of St. Petersburg, Florida, to be the next treasurer of the USCCB, taking office next November.

Archbishop Paul Etienne of Anchorage, Alaska, was elected to chair the Committee on National Collections. He outpolled Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane, Washington, 137-111. Archbishop Etienne will replace Bishop Joseph Cistone, 69, of Saginaw, Michigan, who died Oct. 16.