In a speech at the National Federation of Priests’ Councils annual meeting, Atlanta’s Archbishop Wilton Gregory spoke out against racism, sexism, and sexual orientation discrimination, urging priests in attendance to work to eradicate these injustices.
Archbishop Gregory, one of the few African-American U.S. bishops, said that “many collective social injustices have not greatly improved over the past half-century and in some situations, a few may have even grown worse,” according to an America magazine report by Michael O’Loughlin.
Noting that the work of the 1960s civil rights movement has not ended, Gregory touched on the new ways that injustice springs up, according to the report:
“Compounding those challenges, he said, over the past 50 years people have developed new ways to discriminate, including ‘wage discrimination’ based on gender and ‘the brutality that an individual’s sexual orientation often fosters and justifies.’ He also lamented ‘the current wave of nativism that throughout U.S. history has constantly managed to change its attire but not its vitriol.’ “
Over the years, LGBT advocates have often described the oppression of sexual and gender minorities as comparable to oppression based on race and sex. It is good to see Catholic leader like Archbishop Gregory make a similar connection in this most recent address. Gregory has made several LGBT-positive statements in the last few years. After the 2014 Family Synod at the Vatican, Archbishop Gregory assigned a deacon in his diocese to provide pastoral care to parents of LGBT people, as well as making strong statements of welcome to the LGBT community. While he did not support the U.S. Supreme Court decision on marriage equality, in his statement responding to that ruling, he spoke out against “venomous language or vile behavior against those whose opinions continue to differ from our own,” calling for Catholics who disagreed with each other to respect each other.” When the Georgia governor vetoed a “license to discriminate” law, he supported that decision saying he did not “support any implementation of [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] in a way that will discriminate against any individual” because each person’s dignity is “the basis for religious liberty.”
I think one of the best ways that Catholic advocates for LGBT equality can show gratitude to the archbishop is to take up the anti-racism call which was the main part of his speech. If we really believe in intersectional justice, and if we really believe that as long as one is oppressed, all are oppressed, then it becomes incumbent on our community to support the struggle against racism with the same passion with which we work to end homophobia and transphobia.
Gregory outlined how racism now manifests itself in our country in more insidious ways:
“Among the persistent ills that must be addressed, he said, is racism, which he described as ‘more subtle perhaps’ today than in generations past but ‘no less degrading,’ as well as ‘unabashed economic injustice from which certain classes can never fully escape.’ He said criminal justice challenges remain, noting that U.S. prisons are ‘overflowing with inmates disproportionately representing people of color’ and said body cameras worn by some police officers reveal occasional ‘violence against unarmed people much like that which others suffered in 1968.’ “
In an interview after his speech, Gregory described a phenomenon about racism which is also true about other forms of oppression and discrimination:
“We may have fooled ourselves to think we have solved this sin 50 years ago, but every generation has to confront it. It’s never completely conquered no matter how great the figures who rise up in a certain society.”
And he also commented on the role of priests and church people in supporting those who work against injustice:
“. . . . [H]e said priests must not fear acting boldly when it comes to fighting injustice, noting that Catholic leaders active in previous struggles were seen ‘as mavericks and rebels because they were brave enough to speak up and challenge the prevailing systems and structures.’ He added that they ‘often stood alone or felt isolated in their courageous witness against social injustices.’
“Church leaders must ‘stand behind’ social justice activists today, he said, who ‘should never doubt our support and admiration.’ “
Those words should echo through our church for those who work against all kinds of oppression.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 11, 2018