Statement of U.S. bishop chairmen in wake of death of George Floyd and national protests

WASHINGTON – Seven U.S. bishop chairmen of committees within the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have issued a statement in the wake of the death of Mr. George Floyd and the protests which have broken out in Minneapolis and in other cities in the United States.

Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism; Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez of Philadelphia, chairman of the Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church; Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Bishop Joseph C. Bambera of Scranton, chairman of the Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs; Bishop David G. O’Connell, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, chairman of the Subcommittee on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development; and Bishop Joseph N. Perry, auxiliary bishop of Chicago, chairman of the Subcommittee on African American Affairs have issued the following statement:

We 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.

Racism is not a thing of the past or simply a throwaway political issue to be bandied about when convenient. It is a real and present danger that must be met head on. As members of the Church, we must stand for the more difficult right and just actions instead of the easy wrongs of indifference. 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.

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.

As we said eighteen months ago in our most recent pastoral letter against racism, Open Wide Our Hearts, for people of color some interactions with police can be fraught with fear and even danger. People of good conscience must never turn a blind eye when citizens are being deprived of their human dignity and even their lives. Indifference is not an option. “As bishops, we unequivocally state that racism is a life issue.”

We join Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis in praying for the repose of the soul of Mr. George Floyd and all others who have lost their lives in a similar manner. We plead for an end to the violence in the wake of this tragedy and for the victims of the rioting. We pray for comfort for grieving families and friends. We pray for peace across the United States, particularly in Minnesota, while the legal process moves forward. We also anticipate a full investigation that results in rightful accountability and actual justice.

We join our brother bishops to challenge everyone to come together, particularly with those who are from different cultural backgrounds. In this encounter, let us all seek greater understanding amongst God’s people. So many people who historically have been disenfranchised continue to experience sadness and pain, yet they endeavor to persevere and remain people of great faith. We encourage our pastors to encounter and more authentically accompany them, listen to their stories, and learn from them, finding substantive ways to enact systemic change. Such encounters will start to bring about the needed transformation of our understanding of true life, charity, and justice in the United States. Hopefully, then there will be many voices speaking out and seeking healing against the evil of racism in our land.

As we anticipate the Solemnity of Pentecost this weekend, we call upon all Catholics to pray and work toward a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Let us pray for a supernatural desire to rid ourselves of the harm that bias and prejudice cause. We call upon Catholics to pray to the Holy Spirit for the Spirit of Truth to touch the hearts of all in the United States and to come down upon our criminal justice and law enforcement systems. Finally, let each and every Catholic, regardless of their ethnicity, beg God to heal our deeply broken view of each other, as well as our deeply broken society.

Featured image by Bryan R. Amith via Getty Images

COMING UP: Bringing love to a violent world

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Bringing love to a violent world

Two Denver Catholics share their stories

Ferguson. Baton Rouge. Charleston. Dallas. The list of places where violence has occurred in the U.S. within the last year goes on and on.

Right now, people need hope. Each day seems to bring a new headline of a shooting or a killing, and it’s easy to become numb to what is occurring around the community, nation and world on a daily basis.

As Catholics, we are called to promote justice and uphold the dignity of all people. However, with the narratives the media feeds into, knowing how to approach some of these issues through the lens of the Gospel can be difficult.

Still, hope perseveres, be it through prayer or acts of compassion. Cure d’Ars is one example of a local parish that’s relying on the power of faith to spread hope throughout the community. Last summer, they began embarking on prayer walks in the local neighborhoods, and on Aug. 4, they held a prayer vigil for peace and prayed for an end to the violence that has been occurring locally, nationally and internationally.

Two different worlds

Skeet Johnson is a cradle Catholic and a longtime parishioner of Cure d’Ars. He is also a former Colorado State public defender of 23 years. Johnson retired from his post as a public defender in 2007, but he’s kept plenty busy. He helped to facilitate the prayer walks last summer along with several other local churches, and he volunteers as a basketball coach at Smith Elementary, working with kids.

“I’ve seen a lot of stuff,” Johnson told the Denver Catholic. “I’ve seen a lot of carnage and wasted potential. I’ve seen a lot of courage and I’ve seen evidence of redemption and true contrition and changing even in the face of situations that would require that a person give up a substantial portion of their freedom.”

As an African American who grew up in the projects of Chicago, Johnson has lived in two different worlds. He has seen racism firsthand, but has always viewed it through the lens of the Gospel.


Skeet Johnson is a parishioner of Cure d’Ars parish and a former public defender of 23 years. As an African American man who’s been on both the racism side and the criminal justice side, Johnson views the issue of violence through the lens of the Gospel and said the biggest challenge he faces as a Catholic is overcoming his fear and going out and doing what he can with the tools he’s been given. (Photo by Andrew Wright | Denver Catholic)

“There’s a lot of circumstances that exist as a consequence of racism, and those circumstances are beyond the personal kind of racism, but are rooted in the institutions. That can, in some way, answer the question of why black and poor people find themselves very close to the same position they were in historically,” he said. “But, there comes a time when you have to make a decision as to what kind of person you’re going to be, how you’re going to deal with your circumstances.”

Johnson also looks at these issues as a former public defender who dealt with criminals and police on a regular basis. In his career, he saw police officers who were “about protecting themselves to the exclusion of protecting the community,” and he also saw police who “amazed me with the kind of commitment they had.” Johnson recalled one case he handled where he was defending a man who attacked a police officer with a knife.

“Nowadays, you’d be reading about how many bullets entered his body,” he said. “But this one cop did not do that, and he ultimately disarmed the guy. I asked him at the preliminary hearing, ‘man, why didn’t you [shoot] him?’ And he said, ‘Skeet, my job is not to take life, my job is to protect life.’ That attitude is what it ought to be about.”

When speaking about the numerous incidents that have occurred around the nation, he said the point isn’t how numerous or not they are; the point is how it’s breaking down the relationship between the community and the police.

As a Catholic, my challenge is to break away from my fear and to go out and to do that which I can with the tools that I’ve been given.”

“All I can talk about is a mistrust that exists between the police community and the black community,” he said. “What is occurring and how it’s affecting other people, in how it’s breaking down the relationships between the community and the folks who are to protect them — that’s the issue. Although statistically that may be one situation, that’s a situation that’s like a cancer that spreads throughout the body politic.”

Even so, Johnson refuses to let fear stop him from doing what he believes is his God-given duty to love others and make the world a better place.

“As a Catholic, my challenge is to break away from my fear and to go out and to do that which I can with the tools that I’ve been given,” he said.

To protect, serve and love

Lily is a police officer who just began her career working for a Denver Metro police department (For safety reasons, Lily’s last name and the specific police department she works for have been withheld). She is also a practicing Catholic, and one whose faith informs and affects the way she does her job every single day.

“What makes you a good cop is that you do feel things,” she said. “I’ve always felt that one of my strengths I bring is that I am emotional. I feel things a lot deeper than most people do, and I think that’s why God called me to the profession. It’s the human part and the compassion part that makes my job worth it.”

Being a cop has changed the way Lily sees people. She feels compassion for the people in the community she’s serving. There is a large Latino population where she works, and she said that she’s seen firsthand the way in which race can affect the way people are approached or treated. She can also relate to it because she’s a young, white and female officer.

I don’t care what color skin you are, I don’t care about your history, I care about that moment and loving you in that moment. That’s the most important thing I can do.”

“Seeing how difficult people really have had it gives me so much compassion for them. I can’t condemn people as easily as I once could,” she said. “I can taste it from a minority’s perspective in my job. People do look at you differently and you never know what they truly feel about you. I can see where that might be an issue for someone who is African American or Latino.”

As a member of the law enforcement community and a Catholic, Lily hopes to see the nation heal from the wounds that have been broken open as a result of racial and police violence.

“My goal as a police officer and as a Catholic is to have healing and peace come from this,” she said.

Though racism might not be as prominent in the community she serves as it is in other parts of the country, Lily said that she doesn’t deny that it exists. From her perspective, though, race has nothing to do with the way she does her job, and in her experience with other officers, she said the majority are concerned first and foremost with protecting and serving their community. Lily, however, adds another action to that list: love.

“I don’t care what color skin you are, I don’t care about your history, I care about that moment and loving you in that moment,” she said. “That’s the most important thing I can do.”