Carol Zimmermann, Catholic News Service, March 29, 2022
The Black Lives Matter movement is coming up to its 10th anniversary next year, so it’s hardly in its beginning stages.
It remains a work in progress and many Catholics see it as something that the church should be willing to look at, talk about and even collaborate where it can, to take a hard look at racism and attempt to find a path forward.
In 2016, Bishop Edward K. Braxton, now the retired bishop of Belleville, Illinois, wrote a pastoral letter “The Catholic Church and the Black Lives Matter Movement: The Racial Divide in the United States Revisited,” where he acknowledges the conflict between the church and the Black Lives Matter movement in terms of church teaching on abortion, sexuality, gender identity and more.
He stressed in an interview with Catholic News Service that the Second Vatican Council urges dialogue with people and organizations of divergent views.
When it comes to Catholic engagement with Black Lives Matter, there’s a consensus among some leaders that distinguishing between the broader movement and problematic organizations that bear the name is a key place to start.
In 2020, during the height of protests against Floyd’s death, then-Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, told The Catholic Spirit, archdiocesan newspaper of St. Paul and Minneapolis, that the phrase “Black lives matter” fits within Catholic social teaching about the value of each person and “places before us this reality that Black lives have not always been afforded intrinsic and equal value.”
The prelate, who is now an archbishop since being appointed earlier this year to head the Archdiocese of Louisville, Kentucky, chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism.
He added that “it is entirely possible to give a positive response to the concept of Black Lives Matter … without being beholden to an organization with objectives that are in conflict with the Catholic faith.”
Many Catholics who have taken part in Black Lives Matter-affiliated events have said their focus was simple: protesting the perceived unjustified use of lethal force by police against Black people and calling for reform. They said topics that concern other Catholics about Black Lives Matter — Marxism, transgender ideology and even support for keeping abortion legal — don’t really come up.
Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, gained attention for kneeling while holding a “Black Lives Matter” sign in June 2020. After a photo of that went viral, he received a call from Pope Francis thanking him. The pope also called Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez to thank the U.S. bishops for their pastoral tone during demonstrations across the country.
More recently, Archbishop Gomez’s comments calling out social justice movements in general in the United States drew heated reaction. Without naming any specific group, but he cautioned Catholics to recognize that these movements can serve “as pseudo-religions.”
The archbishop, in videotaped comments for a conference in Madrid last November, said these movements can even be replacements and rivals to traditional Christian beliefs” because “they claim to offer what religion provides.”
Several Catholic groups signed petitions urging the archbishop to apologize for his remarks. Other Catholics defended the archbishop, saying he was “clearly objecting” to a broader worldview on groups “often explicitly hostile to traditional Christianity.”
Archbishop Gomez’s comments did not sit well with Olga Marina Segura, opinion editor at the National Catholic Reporter and author of “Birth of a Movement: Black Lives Matter and the Catholic Church,” published last year by Orbis Books.
Segura told CNS in February that the archbishop’s “strong rhetoric to denounce this movement” was “extremely disillusioned” and disappointing for her as a Black Catholic “who is trying to push this church to engage with this movement more fully.”
For Segura, the Black Lives Matter movement is “very much a secular version of our Catholic social teaching” particularly with its focus on “affirming the most marginalized people,” standing with workers and supporting families.
“For me, that is exactly what we are called to do; this is what our faith calls us to do,” she said.