Bishops Urge Leadership Roles for, Catholic Acceptance of Blacks

Times Religion Writer

The nation's 10 black Roman Catholic bishops chided white Catholics on Wednesday for making many blacks feel unwelcome in their churches and called for greater black leadership and visibility at every level of the church.

In a strongly worded statement endorsed by the entire U.S. Catholic hierarchy during its annual meeting here, the black bishops asked all Catholics "to correct misperceptions of our church and intensify our presence in the black community."

Many black Catholics, the statement said, believe that white Catholics think the Catholic Church is "still European, the special home of the great ethnic and national groups from Europe . . . in some way incompatible with the black experience in America."

As a result, "when white Catholics pass through black neighborhoods, they may feel sorry for black people, feel afraid of them, or even feel guilty about their plight," the black bishops said. "But they do not welcome the call of the Spirit to invite their black sisters and brothers to the table of the Lord. Consequently, many black Americans still feel unwelcome in the Catholic Church."

Only 1.3 million of the nation's more than 25 million blacks are Catholics. The 10 black bishops constitute 3% of all U.S. bishops.

'Prevailing Myth'

The statement, presented by Bishop Joseph L. Howze of Biloxi, Miss., pointed to the "prevailing myth that the remaining 23.8 million black Americans are all devout members of the Protestant churches."

Many are attracted to movements like the Black Muslims, and millions more have no religious affiliation at all, Howze noted.

In addition to calling for vigorous evangelism among blacks, the 10 bishops urged that inner-city Catholic schools--which typically enroll high percentages of black children--be expanded.

The paper also condemned racism as "a sin and heresy" and called for affirmative action in employment and the divestment of church funds "from racist companies."

In referring to the U.S. bishops' proposed collective letter on the economy--a major discussion topic at the meeting here--the black bishops noted that "the unemployed and long-term poor in America are disproportionately black."

Lack of Power

But their poverty extends beyond financial need to lack of power in the church, the black bishops said.

The statement, which was approved during a private session of the national conference Tuesday and made public Wednesday, suggested that a black bishop be appointed "in every major region of the country" and that at least one black be named as an archbishop. The black bishops called also for creation of a top national post, to be called the Black Catholic Secretariat.

On Tuesday, the national hierarchy did elect a black for the first time to a major church policy-making post. Auxiliary Bishop Eugene A. Marino, 51, of Washington was voted secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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