July 23, 2016
An escalating cycle of violence, racial tension -
"Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities" --
Voters' stark death-penalty choice
In this edition:
1. Responding to violence.
2. The faces of violence.
3. All lives matter.
4. Combating terrorism.
5. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Pope to Brownsville youths.
b) The trafficking of children.
6. A stark death-penalty choice.
1. Responding to Violence, Racial Tension
Concerns about violence and racial tension across the U.S. are intensifying in the Catholic community. "As a society we must come together to address the lingering evil of racism, the need to safeguard our citizens from the present danger of extremism and the overall breakdown of civility," Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said July 18.
"As a church we will seek out ways to foster this life-saving dialogue," he said after three police officers were shot and killed in Baton Rouge, La., a city where a black man also was killed in a police shooting July 5.
"Answers will not come easily or as quickly as we need," said the archbishop, but "we must continue searching and listening until they do."
Three days later, in light of several recent incidents of violence and racial tension in the U.S., Archbishop Kurtz established a task force headed by Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory to help bishops engage these challenging problems. Moreover, Archbishop Kurtz called for a Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities to be celebrated Sept. 9. The day of prayer is to serve as a focal point for the task force's work.
The new task force is charged with assisting bishops in a variety of ways -- for example, by gathering and disseminating supportive resources and best practices, listening to the concerns in troubled communities and law enforcement, and building strong relationships to help prevent and resolve conflicts.
"I have stressed the need to look toward additional ways of nurturing an open, honest and civil dialogue on issues of race relations, restorative justice, mental health, economic opportunity and addressing the question of pervasive gun violence," Archbishop Kurtz explained. "The day of prayer and special task force will help us advance in that direction."
He said that "by stepping forward to embrace the suffering, through unified, concrete action animated by the love of Christ, we hope to nurture peace and build bridges of communication and mutual aid in our own communities."
Archbishop Gregory said that the task force will help bishops, "individually and as a group, to accompany suffering communities on the path toward peace and reconciliation."
Because "we are one body in Christ," he added, "we must walk with our brothers and sisters, and renew our commitment to promote healing. The suffering is not somewhere else, or someone else's; it is our own, in our very dioceses."
2. Violence by Any Other Name Remains Violence
Violence remains violence, no matter what the label attached to it, Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany, N.Y., suggested in his July 14 weekly online letter to the diocese. He examined the complex nature of violence in U.S. culture today.
He asked, "Given that all willful actions that injure or kill are acts of violence, how do we reprove some of them so long as we continue to justify any of them?" (He said that "to ask this question is not to propose total nonviolence as the only alternative, especially in matters of self-defense or protecting the lives of others. . . . To do so would offer oppressed peoples little hope when the violence inflicted by authoritarian repression of their fundamental rights is greater than the decisive action it would take to liberate them.")
A concern for Bishop Scharfenberger was that "not all acts of violence are deemed equal." So often, he proposed, "this is because - contrary to our nation's founding principles . . . and the tenets of our own Christian faith - we do not treat all human beings equally."
To judge "some races, some classes, some nationalities or ethnicities" more equal than others "is unjust and breeds violence," he wrote.
Bishop Scharfenberger wrote his letter one week after the shooting deaths in Dallas, Texas, of five police officers. This was "a shocking and deplorable act of pure violence," he said. It represented "the premeditated and deliberate gunning down of police officers protecting citizens who were peacefully exercising their rights to assemble publicly and decry racial inequality."
He noted, at the same time, that incidents prior to the Dallas killings in a number of U.S. locations "where black citizens died under police gunfire" raised "a national concern about systemic racism in law enforcement and the administration of justice."
Reactions to such violent incidents "vary greatly according to the who, how and why - and in these cases, due to the racial context," the bishop commented. It must be stated unequivocally, he said, "that racism remains an unresolved component of our social fabric and our institutions."
The threat racism "poses to the value of all human lives" cannot be "regarded with indifference," he wrote.
Yet, he said, "to condemn any one source of racism . . . while excluding or exculpating others would be an action of selective and disingenuous outrage."
He pointed to certain violent actions that tend to be "reported in much more benign language than 'murder' or 'massacre'" and that "are even routinely tolerated." He mentioned genocide, for example, which "has been termed 'ethnic cleansing' by oppressive regimes"; the "unintended fatalities from a 'successful' military incursion or a drone strike," which are "deemed 'collateral damage"; or "elective" abortions that are "considered fair game in the exercise of 'choice.'"
Violence, said Bishop Scharfenberger, "may not always be avoidable, but parsing its definition according to race, class or any other human status will not reduce the violence that exists within and around us."
He added, "To the extent to which we value and respect the lives of all equally, especially our most vulnerable, and protect everyone's freedoms, we also help reduce the incidence of violence."
The Albany bishop concluded that Christian resistance to violence is based, at its core, in "the awareness that Jesus poured out his blood for everyone."
3. "We Cannot Lose Respect for Each Other"
"We have been swept up in the escalating cycle of violence that has now touched us intimately, as it has others throughout our country and the world," Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, Texas, wrote after the July 7 killing of police officers in his city. He said:
"Five police officers were killed, and seven other officers and two civilians were wounded in a deadly spate of gunfire at the conclusion of a peaceful march protesting recent killings of black men in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis.
"Our first concern is for the families who have lost loved ones in this tragic attack. . . . We are reminded of the ever -present danger to those who are dedicated to protecting us."
Bishop Farrell said, "We cannot lose respect for each other, and we call upon all of our civic leaders to speak to one another and work together to come to a sensible resolution to this escalating violence."
Every life matters, he stated -- "black, white, Muslim, Christian, Hindu. We are all children of God, and all human life is precious."
After the violence in Dallas, Chicago's Archbishop Blase Cupich remarked in a July 8 statement that "every corner of our land is in the grip of terror fueled by anger, hatred and mental illness, and made possible by plentiful, powerful weapons."
He added, "Anyone at any time can become a victim," and "it is time to break the cycle of violence and retaliation, of fear and powerlessness that puts more guns in our homes and on our streets."
This means, he suggested, that "our hearts and minds need to change so our country can change." He wrote:
Archbishop Cupich spoke again on the violence in U.S. society after the killing of police officers in Baton Rouge, La. Lamenting the killing of police officers both there and in Dallas, he wrote that "these outrages deserve every condemnation."
- "Let us assemble in brotherhood to learn what unites us and put aside what divides us," and
- "Let us assemble in strength and keep assembling until our leaders have the courage to take the actions that will make these tragedies less likely," and
- "Let us pause today to remember not only these officers, but the principle of nonviolence they died protecting."
True, he said, "we need a national conversation about the complex issues that must be addressed if we are to break this cycle of violence and restore peace, security and justice in our streets. But, today, these fallen public servants and all those who loved them deserve our consoling support."
4. Combating Terrorism by Reinforcing Democracy
Every terrorist action attacks "the fundamental basis of our democratic coexistence," Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, said July 15 after a man drove a truck into a crowd of people, killing dozens, in Nice, France. The Islamic State claimed the man as one of its soldiers.
"There is only one way to fight attacks on democracy," said the archbishop, "and that is to reinforce democracy and uncompromisingly affirm our commitment to democracy."
Democracy, he stressed, "involves respect for the rights and values of each person and for the rule of law." He insisted that "where the quality of democracy is weakened, the door is opened to those who use their own ideology or power to render us all weaker and less protected."
Archbishop Martin joined "with people of all faiths and walks of life in condemning" terrorism. He spoke, he explained, "about those who provoke terrorism through political or religious ideology." But he said his concerns also apply:
Christ's message is one "of justice, but not vengeance," Archbishop Martin said. His prayer at this moment, he added, is "that that those who have died in the Nice attack will experience a loving encounter with the Lord" and "that those who mourn will encounter the loving comfort of those around them."
- "To those who use violence on our streets to advance the filthy interests of the drug trade."
- "To governments which allow demagogy or corruption to flourish unchecked."
- "To unprincipled compromise in international relationships."
Finally, his prayer is "that love might even change the hatred that has twisted the hearts of those who foster violence."
5. Current Quotes to Ponder
Pope to Youths in U.S. Diocese of Brownsville: "It will be [Pope Francis'] way of being in two places at the same time because he will be in Poland, in Krakow for the world celebration [of World Youth Day] where millions will be gathered with him, but in a certain way giving a special sign that he's always mindful of those who can't make a trip. . . . It's also a sign of his awareness and his love for the people of the Rio Grande Valley because he makes the effort to offer a word of encouragement and a word of consolation." (Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, announcing that at the time of the July 25-July 31 World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, Pope Francis, via a video message, would address youths gathered July 26 for a day-long youth encounter at a parish in the town of Penitas, located in the Brownsville Diocese. "Not everyone can travel to Poland for the World Youth Day, but we believe that even in our area a profound and meaningful encounter with the world's youth can be organized," the diocese said.)
The Trafficking of Children: "The trafficking of anyone, no matter what age, is a crime against humanity. But there is something particularly abominable about submitting children to these barbarities. . . . While human trafficking always exploits the vulnerable, the trafficking of children and youth exploits those most vulnerable of all, something that not only exposes the evil of trafficking in all its repulsive ugliness but something that likewise makes abundantly clear the urgent call for everyone to rise up to protect children, youth and everyone from those who would enslave and dehumanize them." (From remarks July 13 at the United Nations in New York by Archbishop Bernardito Auza, head of the Vatican's U.N. observer mission.)
6. Voters' Stark Choice on Capital Punishment
California voters will have the opportunity this November either to affirm a proposition to eliminate the death penalty, replacing it with life sentences that do not allow for the possibility of parole, or to affirm another, entirely different proposition to expedite the death penalty and speed-up executions.
The state's Catholic bishops announced their support this month for the measure to eliminate the death penalty, known as Proposition 62.
Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego explained the stark choice voters face. Proposition 62 "would eliminate the death penalty" in the state, while Proposition 66 "would expedite the death penalty process and make it easier to carry out executions," he said in a July 14 statement.
The bishop commented that "state-sponsored killing perpetuates the very cycle of violence that it professes to end" and "applies the ultimate sanction of death in a manner that is racially and economically biased."
"Most chillingly of all," he said, "in recent years more than 100 individuals on death row in the United States have been released from prison because they were innocent of the crime for which they were convicted; thus even here in America the death penalty inevitably brings with it the reality of killing innocent people."
The state's Catholic bishops endorsed Proposition 62 to eliminate the death penalty, explaining in a July 14 statement that their "commitment to halt the practice of capital punishment is rooted both in the Catholic faith and our pastoral experience."
In opposing Proposition 66, which would "expedite executions in California," the bishops observed that "the search for a fair and humane execution process and protocol has failed for decades." They said, "Any rush to streamline that process will inevitably result in the execution of more innocent people."
The bishops' support for ending the death penalty does not overlook the anguish of crime victims and their families, they stressed. "With the violent loss of a loved one, a sword has pierced their heart," but "their enduring anguish is not addressed by the state-sanctioned perpetuation of the culture of death," the bishops said.
The death penalty, the bishops continued, "does not promote healing" and "only brings more violence to a world that has too much violence already." They said they "will continue to promote responsibility, rehabilitation and restoration for everyone impacted by the criminal justice system."
California's bishops remarked that "a spreading opposition to the death penalty, even as an instrument of legitimate social defense, has developed in public opinion." They called this "a sign of hope," adding that "modern societies have the ability to effectively control crime without definitively taking away a criminal's chance to redeem himself."