In an excerpt from her new book, Birth of a Movement: Black Lives Matter and the Catholic Church, NCR opinion editor Olga Segura writes about how the Catholic Church must make amends to Black people.
In "A Christian Call for Reparations," the Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas described the need for faith leaders to center the Black experiences as crucial for their spirituality and ultimate salvation. By rejecting white supremacy and actively working to repair the harm Christian institutions have done to Black Americans, faith leaders can work to become moral leaders. For the Catholic Church to place itself within this struggle, it must make amends for the ways that it, too, has harmed Black Americans since the birth of the United States.
Historian Shannen Dee Williams has challenged many of us regarding the church's true role in chattel slavery. Along with slavery came racial capitalism, an economic system that relied on the exploitation, torture, rape, and often murder of Black and indigenous people throughout American history. As the first churches were being erected across the country, as Catholic schools were being created, including some of the oldest Jesuit colleges, this country was simultaneously viewing Black women and men as objects that would enhance profit. Our own church, which claims to internalize the gospel, enslaved Africans; our own church used Black women, men, and children to promote its own well-being and success over Black livelihood.
Throughout the American church's history and well into the twentieth century, religious orders were also actively working to keep Black women and men out. Williams wrote that many Black women and men chose, instead, to start their own religious orders. Universities run by religious orders, like Georgetown University, were also complicit in racial capitalism. The Jesuits who ran Georgetown University in 1838, just forty-nine years after the first Catholic bishop in America founded it, sold 272 enslaved persons to avoid bankruptcy.