Monday, June 1, 2020

Again, Case Study from Minnesota: Bishops Playing Culture-War Games Cannot Effectively Address Real, Pressing Problems Like Racism

On 23 May, I posted a piece here entitled "As US President Demands That Churches Re-Open, Case Study from Minnesota." That posting noted the intent of the Catholic bishops of Minnesota to "defy" the stay-at-home orders of the state's governor and re-open churches. The word "defy" is used in the headline of a 20 May MPR article about this story to which I linked on 23 May.

Two days after I posted my piece about the intent of the Minnesota Catholic bishops to defy the state's governor and re-open churches, this happened on 25 May: that story is told in the video at the head of this posting. Note that the video has a warning attached, since it contains graphic footage of Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin choking George Floyd to death with his knee on Floyd's neck, while Floyd pleads for his life.

Since then, as anyone following the news knows, there have been major disturbances throughout the US with gatherings in other parts of the world to express solidarity with people of color in the US in their struggle for justice. Since then, in much of the US, we have seen, as Charles Pierce puts the point today, police rioting in city after city in the US. Pierce writes,

All weekend, all over the country, we saw what the Kerner Commission called a police riot. Reporters and other citizens targeted and shot with "non-lethal" weapons. 

On 29 May, National Catholic Reporter published an editorial noting the nigh total lack of any response on the part of the US Catholic bishops to what was done to George Floyd, and the wildly unsatisfactory response, in particular, of the archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis, Hebda — the man leading the "defiance" of Minnesota governor Walz over the matter of re-opening churches:

And bishops. What bishops? Not a single word from the national conference on any of these deaths. Worse perhaps was St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop Bernard Hebda's May 27 statement on Floyd's killing. It did not even mention racism, and used the phrase "all lives are sacred" — an uncomfortable parallel to the "all lives matter" retort to the Black Lives Matter movement.

On the same day, 29 May, that NCR published this editorial, it also published an article by Michael Sean Winters entitled, "In defying shutdown, Minnesota bishops surrender to the culture warriors." Winters notes that (my summary, not his words), in their eagerness to imagine a non-existent culture war against their "religious freedom," a non-existent war ginned up by the Becket Fund, the Catholic bishops have had their gimlet eyes fixed on entirely the wrong threat to the church's mission and reputation.

While they were spending untold amounts of energy doing the bidding of a Republican front group, the Becket folks, in "defying" a Democratic governor over an affront to religious freedom they had entirely manufactured, their state was beginning a descent into hell — due to ugly, death-dealing systemic racism that appears to have been nowhere on their radar screens, as they agitated themselves about imaginary culture-war issues.

They were silent when George Floyd was killed and all hell broke loose because, to be frank — this is me, not Winters — they have absolutely nothing of importance to say about the pressing issues of the day. 

Minnesota is not, after all, the kind of place in which racism is a problem. Is it? On that point, here's David Leonhardt on the "Minnesota paradox" in today's New York Times "Morning Briefing": 

Minnesota's Twin Cities metro area has one of the country's highest standards of living by many measures: high incomes, long life expectancy, a large number of corporate headquarters and a rich cultural scene. 
But these headline statistics hide a problem: The Twin Cities also have some of the largest racial inequities in the U.S. 
Incomes for white families are similar to those in other affluent metro areas, like Atlanta and Los Angeles. Incomes for black families are close to those in poorer regions like Cleveland and New Orleans. 
Samuel L. Myers Jr., an economist at the University of Minnesota, has named this combination "the Minnesota paradox"' ... 
"We so want to believe we are not racist," Doug Hartmann, chairman of the University of Minnesota sociology department, has told The Star Tribune, "we don't even see the way that race still matters."

On 31 May, the president of the US Catholic Bishops' Conference Archbishop José H. Gomez did issue a statement on the killing of George Floyd and the protests in American cities. It's replete with nice words, words that church leaders have to say if they're going to demonstrate any fidelity to the gospels.

They're not words I find easy to listen respectfully to, however — not when the bishops' conference issuing them did everything but stand on its head to place the current occupant of the White House in office, leading 6 in 10 white Catholics — who could hear the silence of the bishops about that man in the White House, loudly and clearly, and who knew what it meant — to vote for that man.

Until the US Catholic bishops charge themselves with pastoral malfeasance, with years of complicity in promoting "pro-life" leaders who not only do not address but who deepen systemic racism, I'm not prepared to hear anything they have to say on the matter of racism with much careful attention at all. Until the US Catholic bishops confess the grave, sinful harm they have done to this nation in the era of that man in the White House, whom they played a leading role in placing there through their silent complicity, I'm afraid I have no choice except to turn a deaf ear to anything nice they now have to say about racism.

As for the Minnesota bishops, well: they've shown us in very stark terms in recent days where their moral and pastoral priorities lie, haven't they? And the picture is not pretty. Talk about fiddling while Rome burns!

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