Pastoral Letter: U.S. Bishops Decry ‘Racial and Xenophobic’ Violence

Members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops gather for the USCCB's annual
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has approved a new pastoral letter on racism in response to what they call a “deterioration of the public discourse” and a rise in racially motivated violence.

“The entire body of bishops felt the need to address the topic of racism,” reads a statement posted on the bishops’ website Wednesday, “after witnessing the deterioration of the public discourse, and episodes of violence and animosity with racial and xenophobic overtones, that have re-emerged in American society in the last few years.”

The pastoral letter, titled “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love,” has not yet been released in its entirety, but the statement said that in coming days the full text will be posted online, along with “many accompanying pastoral resources.”

The Bishops approved the publication of the letter on Wednesday during the annual fall meeting of the USCCB in Baltimore by a vote of 241 to three with one abstention. This year’s meeting created a media storm when the Vatican intervened at the last moment, prohibiting the bishops from voting on measures designed to address the clerical sex abuse crisis.

In their statement, the bishops underscore the exceptional character of the new document, declaring that pastoral letters from the full body of bishops “are rare, few and far between.” At key moments in history, “the bishops have come together for important pronouncements,” it reads, to address an urgent issue “with the intention of offering a Christian response, full of hope, to the problems of our time.”

“This is such a time,” the bishops state.

Racism, the text declares, “is above all a moral and theological problem that manifests institutionally and systematically. Only a deep individual conversion of heart, which then multiplies, will compel change and reform in our institutions and society.”

The letter furthermore insists on the need to “confront racism’s root causes and the injustice it produces.”

In a prior letter, published in 1979, the bishops stated: “Racism is a sin: a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father.”

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