by Dolores Foster Williams
Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.
Institutional Racism and the Catholic Church will challenge the stereotypical labels attached to Americans of African descent. Institutional Racism and the Catholic Church is a memoir, reflective of the experiences of countless Americans of African descent who suffered under the regressive grip of institutional racism perpetuated by a Christian organization that supposedly was dedicated to justice and equality. Americans of African descent succeeded I spite of the racism encountered throughout society and their communities and which was unfortunately also entrenched within the walls of the institutional Catholic Church. Institutional Racism and the Catholic Church will attempt to shine light on and open up a discussion long buried by Catholic evangelism policies that were not inclusive. The roots of this racism go back centuries. As early as the 1600s Catholic evangelism strategies involved converting people of color in ways that did not respect their native cultures or values. The result, whether in churches or schools, people of color were often subjected to the stereotypical misconceptions of the day. The clear message, if you want to live a successful life you must become one of us, follow our White ways and practice our traditions of Catholicism. As if this blatant racism was not bad enough, there were unspoken, even more despicable forces at work. All over Africa, the Catholic Church began an evangelism outreach to members of the African American community by opening churches and schools for them exclusively. The same thing was going on to support a diverse group of other White ethnics. Over time, the African American churches and schools began to close, the victims of ongoing racism and because of that racism, their members lacked the financial resources to support a thriving church. How did the Catholic Church react to this trend? Instead of instituting more inclusive policies, they allowed the closures to continue. When neighborhoods began to change when Blacks moved in, the Catholic Churches, the African American presence in the Catholic Church today is insignificant.
Catholic schools are almost exclusively homogeneous, predominately White, predominately Hispanic, or predominately African American, as to church membership. The number of Black Catholic priests, mums and brothers is insignificantly small.
How can an institution promoting Christian values have buried their heads in the sands of racism so completely, for so long, as to have allowed this blatant social cancer of institutional racism to have become so entrenched? As in the case of the pedophile priests, by admitting what has gone on in the past in the area of racism, it is the hope of the author that the Church will put in place programs and policies to make sure all the remnants of racism still affecting Church policies will be banished forever and replaced with the inclusive racial harmony our Christian heritage intended for all peoples of all racial and religious and gendered backgrounds. This book is a sequel to Saint Benedict the Moore, A Legacy Revisited. Interspersed in that book were descriptions of blatant instances of racial discrimination experienced by some students and some other persons associated with St. Benedict the Moor from the time of the inception of the Church and school. This book will revisit those mirrors of Catholic racism, along with accounts of past acts of racism experienced by other black individual’s acts of racism whether intentional or unintentional which were perpetuated by Catholic “royalty”. This book will question the validity and promise of current attempts to bridge the White/Black Catholic racial divide and to propose suggestions that Catholic decision makers can institute to realistically actuate their works and directives in making the Catholic Church a healing force in the 21st century. Read the book and then give it to someone else to learn about this issue. The writer received her first degree from St.Xavier College, Chicago.