By Kate Scanlon, OSV News
WASHINGTON (OSV News) — The Catholic Church is called to address issues of systemic racism as a part of its social justice work, advocates said Jan. 29 at the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington.
At a panel with speakers from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and Catholic Mobilizing Network, Catholic activists said that in order to serve individuals and communities in ministry, there must be an understanding of the unique challenges some communities experience, especially when those challenges are tied to historic or ongoing racism.
“If we systemically want to change things, we have to start talking about systemic racism,” said Jack Murphy, national chair of systemic change and advocacy at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul USA. “We don’t go through this to make people feel guilty; this isn’t an ‘Oh, look at what you did, you white person years ago.’ History is history — but we have to talk about it.”
Murphy described housing, education and employment as mutually reinforcing systems where the disparities contribute to a racial wealth gap. For example, a student in a disenfranchised school doesn’t have the same educational opportunities as students in schools in wealthier neighborhoods, leading to disproportionate employment outcomes, or if the cost of housing spikes too sharply, that can lead even some who are employed into homelessness.
Caitlin Morneau, director of restorative justice at Catholic Mobilizing Network, who oversees program development that advances healing approaches to harm and crime, said addressing issues like housing, employment, education and incarceration are “so beautifully aligned with Catholic social teaching.
“For me, what stands out is human dignity is at the center,” Morneau said. “No person is disposable.”
Speakers noted that Catholic ministries should be informed by Christ’s directive to visit the imprisoned, which the church teaches is a corporal work of mercy.
Pamela Matambanadzo, chair of the Multicultural Diversity Committee at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Chicago, said that community support is a crucial component of helping those who have been incarcerated transition back into society.
“Sometimes when somebody comes out that exacerbates their brokenness when they don’t have people to rely on,” she said.
Matambanadzo also shared that she once assisted a young man whose partner was expecting a child, who did not have his own Social Security card or birth certificate because his own mother never completed the process for him to receive them when he was born.
Institutional racism played a role in the man going 26 years without those crucial documents, Matambanadzo said, adding that those in attendance should consider the implications for voting rights that some eligible U.S. citizens are not voting because they lack the documentation to do so.