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Making reparations: churches begin to act on America's Original Sin

The Catholic Church being one notable exception, churches are beginning to put money to mouth on the topic of reparations to Black Americans.

Reparations are quickly becoming a hot topic in American Christianity—except the upper echelons of the US Catholic Church.

David Crary of the Associated Press put out a piece yesterday covering the various groups acting (or not acting) on the compounded inequities resulting from White racism and slavery.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the groups more fully acknowledging this history and looking to make amends are mainline churches, including the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church (UMC), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

The interdenominational Minnesota Council of Churches (MCC) also committed to a reparations initiative following the murder of George Floyd in the city of their headquarters—Minneapolis being one of the most starkly unequal cities in one of the most starkly unequal states.

The Gopher State's six Catholic dioceses are absent among the MCC's 25 member groups.

While there is one pentarchical group counted among the MCC—namely, the Greek Orthodox—the local Catholic province, like most clergy-led Catholic groups around the country, is opting for prayer rather than payments.

Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the first African-American to head the nation's (arguably) preeminent see and the first to become a cardinal, discussed reparations with Crary in October before his elevation, but the topic was not picked up in Catholic media.

In the exchange, Gregory apparently ruled out the idea of reparations being distributed by the Catholic Church as a whole—presumably referring to the Vatican or the USCCB.

He did, however, applaud Georgetown University's recent decision to repay the descendants of those they enslaved—and later sold—at the school in the 19th century, touting DC's largest Catholic university as a model for individual institutions wishing to make amends.

The interview did not note the fact that Georgetown's plan far undersells the student referendum that inspired it, and is apparently based on donations rather than the university's endowment.

Moreover, the larger reparations claim may not be satisfied by paying a pittance to a portion, since the foundational Catholic universities in the US—including Georgetown and the USCCB's very own Catholic University of America—harmed Black Americans on the whole by banning them from admission.

More fully addressing these and various other issues concerning Catholicism and anti-Blackness in America, Dr. Shannen Dee Williams of Villanova (another Catholic institution with a sordid racial past) spoke up earlier this year on reparations, and with a decidedly forceful flair.

"The goal for Black people has never been charity; it is full justice, human rights, freedom and the complete dismantling of white supremacy, beginning with the church."

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder of Black Catholic Messenger, a priesthood applicant with the Josephites, and a ThM student w/ the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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