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Catholic Life

Racism addressed at Knights of Peter Claver webinar


The Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary hosted their latest webinar on Saturday, Feb. 19, on the issue of systemic racism. It was the second event in their 2022 social justice series, which began in January with a panel on human trafficking.

This webinar featured KPC members from around the country, including a Black religious sister, young adult, priest, bishop and legal professional.

The two clergymen, Father Maurice Nutt, CSsR and Auxiliary Bishop Fernand Cheri III, OFM – both of New Orleans – kicked off the event, encouraging action on the issue from the perspective of institutional leaders in the Church.

“It’s as if they are trying to re-invent our story to deny the truth of slavery, brutality, disenfranchisement, marginalization and oppression in our society,” Father Nutt said later in the event. “There’s a (need to resist) all that tries to erase Blackness and make Blackness sub-standard and abnormal.”

Sister Roberta Fulton, SSMN, who serves in the Office of Pastoral Ministries, noted that the struggle of Black women has often been hidden within the larger narrative of Black resistance and the (largely white) women’s movement. This has included historic struggles against stereotypes as well as stigmas, leading to materially harmful misconceptions in economic and social sectors, and discouragement of women in the realms of political engagement and education.

Sister Roberta noted, however, that Black women have in many ways persevered and overcome.

“I’m here today to tell you we have moved. We have been shaking the ground,” she said. “We are not a dream deferred.”

Arthur McFarland, a retired judge in Charleston, South Carolina, and current KPC national advocate, began his segment on the history of U.S. Black Catholics, noting that some of the first African slaves brought stateside were Catholics from the Kingdom of Kongo. They would later lead one of the largest slave rebellions in history.

He lamented that many such stories are forgotten – often intentionally.

“The history of our Catholic Church is steeped in the erasure of the contributions of African Americans… solely because of our race,” McFarland said.

He cited books from the late Father Cyprian Davis, OSB, and Dr. Matthew Cressler, which respectively cover the broader history of Black Catholics and the modern struggle of that community to enculturate their faith.

McFarland said that “the lack of moral courage by the bishops” led to Black Catholics taking up the responsibility for themselves to create institutions for their uplift, ranging from the Jim Crow era up to and after the Civil Rights Movement.

A similar mode of resistance among white clergy and laity has persisted, he added.

“The Church’s emphasis on pro-life (issues) has caused an alignment between Church leaders and white evangelicals, some of whom continue to support racist policies and practices,” he said. “Racism is a sin, from Rome to Washington. Elimination of racism within the Catholic Church must be frontally addressed.”

A question and answer period followed.


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