What is RACISM?

From our United States Bishops

“Racism arises when—either consciously or unconsciously—a person holds that his or her own race or ethnicity is superior, and therefore judges persons of other races or ethnicities as inferior and unworthy of equal regard. When this conviction or attitude leads individuals or groups to exclude, ridicule, mistreat, or unjustly discriminate against persons on the basis of their race or ethnicity, it is sinful. Racist acts are sinful because they violate justice. They reveal a failure to acknowledge the human dignity of the persons offended, to recognize them as the neighbors Christ calls us to love (Mt 22:39).

Racism occurs because a person ignores the fundamental truth that, because all humans share a common origin, they are all brothers and sisters, all equally made in the image of God.…

Racism can often be found in our hearts—in many cases placed there unwillingly or unknowingly by our upbringing and culture….Racism can also be institutional, when practices or traditions are upheld that treat certain groups of people unjustly. The cumulative effects of personal sins of racism have led to social structures of injustice and violence that makes us all accomplices in racism….

We have also seen years of systemic racism working in how resources are allocated to communities that remain de facto segregated. As an example, the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, resulted from policy decisions that negatively affected the inhabitants, the majority of whom were African Americans.  We could go on, for the instances of discrimination, prejudice, and racism, sadly, are too many.…

What is needed, and what we are calling for, is genuine conversion of heart, a conversion that will compel change, and the reform of our institutions and society. Conversation is a long road to travel for the individual. Moving our nation to a full realization of the promise of liberty, equality, and justice for all is even more challenging. However, in Christ we can find the strength and the grace necessary to make the journey.”

—US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Excerpts from “Open Wide Our Hearts” (2018)

“Racism can only end if we contend with the policies and institutional barriers that perpetuate and preserve the inequality—economic and social— that we still see all around us. With renewed vigor, we call on members of the Body of Christ to join others in advocating and promoting policies at all levels that will combat racism and its effects in our civic and social institutions.”

US Bishops
Open Wide Our Hearts,” (2018)

Learn the Types of RACISM

From the Smithsonian Museum

Truth-telling is an essential part of the repentance process in our faith. To aid in the process of understanding the manifestations of racism, we begin this exploration with the following definitions from the Smithsonian’s Museum of African American History and Culture.

“Racism takes several forms and works most often in tandem with at least one other form to reinforce racist ideas, behavior, and policy. Types of racism are:

Individual racism refers to the beliefs, attitudes, and actions of individuals that support or perpetuate racism in conscious and unconscious ways. The U.S. cultural narrative about racism typically focuses on individual racism and fails to recognize systemic racism. Examples include believing in the superiority of white people, not hiring a person of color because something ‘doesn’t feel right,’ or telling a racist joke.

Interpersonal racism occurs between individuals. These are public expressions of racism, often involving slurs, biases, or hateful words or actions.

Institutional racism occurs in an organization. These are discriminatory treatments, unfair policies, or biased practices based on race that result in inequitable outcomes for whites over people of color and extend considerably beyond prejudice. These institutional policies often never mention any racial group, but the intent is to create advantages. Example: A school system where students of color are more frequently distributed into the most crowded classrooms and underfunded schools and out of the higher-resourced schools.

Structural racism is the overarching system of racial bias across institutions and society. These systems give privileges to white people resulting in disadvantages to people of color. Example: Stereotypes of people of color as criminals in mainstream movies and media.”

—Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, “Talking About Race

“We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.”

Pope Francis
General Audience (2020)

“Every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language or religion, is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God’s intent.”

Second Vatican Council
Gaudium et Spes,” [29] (1965)

Learn with open HEARTS AND MINDS

From the Church and Community

Pastoral Letters, Statements, and Guidance
In the search to understand racial injustice, it is natural for Catholics to turn to Church leaders for their faith-centered perspective. In this section, you’ll find links to select resources and statements shared from our Bishops.

Ethicists, Theologians, and Social Justice Organizations
Racial justice learning and discernment requires the humility to: open our hearts to the lived experiences of those impacted by racism; open our minds to those who study the historical context and interconnected impacts of racism; and join hands with those who actively work to eradicate it. They speak the “true truth” (as Servant of God Sr. Thea Bowman used to call it)—perspectives and life experiences that may be new to you. We pray that they will touch you, challenge you, and lead you forward.

Recommended Journals
While information about racism is widely available, these Catholic periodicals have been sources of both hope and information. They have dispelled myths, given insights into terminology, and connected the dots between today’s world and racism’s historical roots. These journals have helped us prayerfully read the signs of our times through the lens of our faith.

COMING SOON: Ministry Recommendations
The volume of information on the web can be overwhelming. In the near future, we will list and profile resources we have found particularly helpful on our faith-centered journey. These sites and tools provide a deeper insight into racism—how it works, its present-day manifestations, its intergenerational impacts, and the role we play.

From our Church Leaders

Pastoral Letters, Statements, and Guidance from our Bishops
In the search to understand racism and address racial injustice, it is natural for Catholics to turn to Church leaders for a faith-centered perspective. In this section, you’ll find links to documents and resources ranging from national to state to regional levels.

“We must in shame recognize those moments when we have contributed to the terrible legacy of racism in our world.” (2021)

Homily for Racial Healing for and with the AAPI community.
Robert Cardinal McElroy (2020)

Pastoral Letter from
Bishop Mark Seitz

From our Educational Institutions

Contemporary Ethicists, Theologians, Historians, and Leaders
In this section you will hear from modern day justice experts who we hope will help open hearts and minds.  While you may not agree with everything said, the willingness to receive the information and prayerfully ponder it is a step on the synodal path. Part of this journey is to move outside ourselves and see racism as lived and understood by those who endure it.

M. Shawn Copeland, PhD, Professor Emerta of Systematic Theology, Boston College, is a renowned expert in theological and philosophical anthropology, embodiment, political theology, theological methods, African and African–derived religious and cultural experience, and African-American intellectual history.
Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being (Fortress Press, 2023)
The Fierce Urgency of Now” (lecture, Boston College, Apr. 4, 2018)

Rev. Bryan Massingale, Professor of Theology, Fordham University. Expert in Catholic Moral Theology, Catholic Social Thought, African American Religious Ethics, Racial Justice, Liberation Theologies, Race and Sexuality.
Racial Justice and the Catholic Church (Orbis Books, 2010)
Redeeming the Soul of a Nation” (lecture, University of California, San Diego, Nov. 15, 2023)
The Assumptions of White Privilege and What We Can Do About It,” National Catholic Reporter (June 2020)
Without this virtue, your moral life is unstable,” U.S. Catholic (Aug. 2022)
Right and full memory, Jesus tells us, is key to eternal life: How a memorial for victims of lynchings prompts us to remember Jesus,” U.S. Catholic (Sept. 2019)

Rev. Joseph Cheah, Professor of Religious Studies and Theology, and Chair of the Department of Philosophy, Theology, and Religious Studies, University of St. Joseph.
Anti-Asian Racism: Myths, Stereotypes, and Catholic Social Teaching  (Orbis Books 2023)
Anti-Asian Violence: A Catholic Perspective,” (lecture, Assumption Catholic Church, Chicago, June 23, 2021)
‘Anti-Asian Racism’ names the sin of white supremacy in Catholic Church,” National Catholic Reporter (Apr. 29, 2023)

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Shannon Dee Williams, PhD, Associate Professor of History, University of Dayton. She is an award-winning scholar of the African American experience and Black Catholicism with research and teaching specializations in women’s, religious, and Black freedom movement history.
Subversive Habits: The Untold Story of Black Catholic Nuns in the United States (Duke University Press 2022)
America’s Real Sister Act: The Hidden History of Black Nuns in the United States,” (lecture, Yale University, Nov. 6, 2022)
The church must make reparation for its role in slavery, segregation,” National Catholic Reporter (June 15, 2020)

Patrick Saint-Jean, SJ, PsyD, Professor of Psychology, Creighton University.
The Crucible of Racism: Ignatian Spirituality and the Power of Hope (Orbis Books, 2022)
Patrick Saint-Jean, interview by Robert Ellsberg, Orbis Books–One On One, June 1, 2022
St. Ignatius and the spiritual blindness of racism,” America: The Jesuit Review (Sept. 2, 2022)

Constance Carroll, PhD, Founder and president, California Community Colleges Baccalaureate Association and Chancellor Emerita, San Diego Community College District. She served on the National Council on the Humanities and is a member of the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities.
Morgan Cook, “Constance Carroll: A fierce advocate for community College students,” San Diego Union-Tribune, Nov. 26, 2021.
The American Catholic Church In The Shadow of Slavery,” (lecture, University of San Diego, Sept. 3, 2020)

Jemar Tisby, PhD, Author, historian and speaker on the Black experience and the historical context of racism in the American church.
The Color of Compromise (Zondervan, 2019)
How To Fight Racism: Courageous Christianity and the Journey Toward Racial Justice,” (lecture Jan 12, 2021)
Daniel José Camacho, “On the Brutal, Violent History of Racism in the U.S. Church,” Sojourners, May 9, 2019

Daniel P. Horan, OFM, PhD, Professor of Philosophy, Religious Studies, and Theology and Director of the Center for Spirituality, St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame.
A White Catholic’s Guide to Racism and Privilege (Ave Maria Press, 2021)
A Catholic Response to Racism,” (lecture Notre Dame, IN, 2021)
Buffalo makes it clear: Racism and gun violence are a Christian problem,” National Catholic Reporter (May 18, 2022)

Olga Segura, graduate of Fordham University, freelance writer and opinion editor, National Catholic Reporter.
Birth of a Movement: Black Lives Matter and the Catholic Church (Orbis Books, 2021)
Olga Segura, interview by Robert Ellsberg, Orbis Books: One-On-One (Feb. 16, 2021)
Why a Catholic journalist is urging the church to engage Black Lives Matter,” National Catholic Reporter (Mar. 3, 2021)

“Each of us as Catholics must acknowledge a share in the mistakes and sins of the past. Many of us have been prisoners of fear and prejudice. We have preached the Gospel while closing our eyes to the racism it condemns. We have allowed conformity to social pressures to replace compliance with social justice.”

United States Catholic Conference of Bishops
Brothers and Sisters to Us” (1979)

Catechism of the Catholic Church

“The equality of all people rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it: Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design.”

CCC 470 Part Three 1935

From Higher Education and Catholic Journals

Scholarly information and insights for Catholics seeking greater depth of understanding on racism—its roots, patterns, manifestations, and impacts.

Notre Dame Initiative on Race and Resilience, University of Notre Dame
#Black Catholics Syllabus, Dr. Tia Noelle Pratt
Baked In, Racism Around and Within Us, University of San Diego
Race and Philosophy Conference, University of San Diego
Catholic Perspectives on Racism and White Supremacy, University Ministry, University of San Diego
Slavery and the Catholic Church, Harbst Center for Catholic Social Thought, University of San Diego
Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, Georgetown University
Anti-Racism and Inclusion Resources, Loyola Marymount University
Racial Justice, Boston College Campus Ministry
Boston University Center for Antiracism, Boston University
What is Anti-Racism?, Boston University
Racial Justice Resources, University of San Francisco
Racial Equity Resources, John Carroll University
JustSouth Articles on Racism and Racial Justice, Jesuit Social Research Institute, Loyola University New Orleans
Black Catholic Theological Symposium
Black Catholic Theological Symposium Published Books
Martin Luther King Research and Education Center Resources Overview, Stanford University
Anti-Racist Toolkit, Georgetown University

A Powerful Multimedia Presentation of:

Martin Luther King, Jr. Education and Research Institute, Stanford University