Touching on the elevation of the first-ever African-American Catholic cardinal as well as the ongoing issue of racism, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) today began their first-ever virtual General Assembly, led by their president, Archbishop Jose Gomez, and streamed via YouTube.
Perhaps in a nod to Cardinal-elect Wilton Gregory, the meeting was prefaced with 18 minutes of instrumental jazz—arguably the most globally popular form of African-American (and overall United States) music.
Gomez led off the meeting with his "heartfelt congratulations" to the sole American appointee in the upcoming consistory in Rome, scheduled to take place November 28th.
"We are grateful to His Holiness Pope Francis for his decision to elevate our brother to the College of Cardinals."
The apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, likewise congratulated +Gregory on his elevation.
"We rejoice at this nomination as a further sign of the close attention of Pope Francis to the Church in the United States," he noted.
Neither Gomez nor Pierre mentioned the historic nature of the appointment.
Moreover, while racism and social justice featured in Pierre's remarks to the assembly, no mention was made of the connection between racism (from Catholics) in America and the lack of even a single Black American cardinal until—Lord willing—the year 2020.
In his presidential address, Gomez made only passing mention of the extant racial crisis, instead focusing on COVID-19 and more general social ills.
Pierre and Gomez did, however, make note of the recently-beatified Blessed Michael McGivney, highlighting his founding of the Knights of Columbus and advocacy for immigrants and other marginalized groups. The long and ongoing history of racism within the KoC after his death apparently did not merit mentioning.
Also omitted was the Black Catholic fraternal order formed in response, the Knights of Peter Claver, who celebrated 111 years a mere week after McGivney's beatification. +Gregory is a long-time Knight in the KPC, and in June harshly criticized an event held in DC for President Donald Trump at the KoC-owned JPII Shrine that same month.
Following Gomez' address, a report from the September meeting of the USCCB National Advisory Council (NAC), a group made up of bishop-appointed lay and clerical representatives from around the country, noted a resolution to make the USCCB's Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism (ACAR) a permanent fixture rather than ad hoc.
Several members opposed the idea. The reasons cited by NAC chairwoman Deborah Amato for the "many abstentions", however, did not involve opposition toward the committee, but rather a fear that making the committee permanent might lessen its effectiveness.
The ACAR was established in 2017 after the White Supremacist terrorist attack in Charlottesville—which Archbishop Timothy Broglio described today as mere "violent clashes". The post-George Floyd statement in May from the committee's chairman, Black Catholic bishop Shelton Fabre, displayed a similarly vague tone.
Moreover, while Broglio's presentation was in anticipation of an assembly vote later this week on whether to continue the committee at all, the "key facts" cited for its extension did not mention the ongoing issues of White racism in America.
Following Broglio's address, during the allotted time for comments, Lexington's Bishop John Stowe, O.F.M. Conv., a staunch justice advocate, objected to the committee's being funded by outside sources, specifically citing the potential for undue influence.
These sources include—ironically enough—the Knights of Columbus, as well as the Black and Indian Mission Office (BIMO)—board-directed by a trio of controversial White bishops, including arch-conservatives Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. (who is half-Native American), and the fiscally scandalous Archbishop William Lori. The executive director of the BIMO is Father Maurice Henry Sands, also Native American.
Also concerning the matter of finances, the NAC report also covered the impact of COVID-19 on Catholic parishes and schools. One product of the council meetings was the idea of a "national funding model" to support "suffering" parishes, especially those serving at-risk minorities. It was not specified how this would differ what the BIMO has apparently offered for 133 years.
Notably, the Black Lives Matter movement was addressed directly during this portion of the proceedings, as Chairwoman Amato noted how during NAC discussions, the distinction between the BLM organization and the larger movement/ethos was a major topic, alongside the need for clear definitions of "systemic" and "institutional".
Another NAC resolution called for a "self-reflection process on issues of racism", the results of which the bishops could use in their respective committees and dioceses. No opposition to this resolution was mentioned, and the bishops reportedly felt this would represent "meaningful action in response to racism".
The second and final public session of the #USCCB20 General Assembly will air tomorrow (Tuesday, November 17) at 1pm EST on usccb.org/live.