Bishops in Southwark have sent a message to all students in Catholic schools in the archdiocese urging them always to challenge racism and stating their commitment to justice and equality.
The letter was backed by the Catholic Education Service, who told The Tablet: “The Black Lives Matter movement is rightly shining a light on the injustices that those from ethnicity minorities sadly still face in society.
“As the second largest provider of schools in England we know the invaluable contribution schools make in shaping the lives and attitudes of generations of children. Catholic schools must be places where all pupils and staff can flourish therefore, it is right that Catholic schools make all possible steps to further racial justice.”
The Southwark letter was signed by Archbishop of Southwark John Wilson, auxiliary bishops Patrick Lynch sscc and Paul Hendricks, and the episcopal vicar in Kent, Canon John O’Toole.
Southwark is one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the country. The archdiocese covers all of south London, Kent, and the Medway Unitary Authority, with people from countries in Africa, the Caribbean, Asia, Latin America, Western and Eastern Europe.
Acknowledging the “outrage and anger” surrounding the death of George Floyd both in and outside the United States, and referring to the subsequent protests, the bishops say: “It raises important questions about the reality of racism in our society here and now. We know that many people feel very strongly about this, especially young people.
“This why we wanted to write to all the students in our Catholic schools across the Archdiocese. We are united with you in asking for justice and equality for every person no matter what colour their skin happens to be. We believe that every human life is sacred, from its first beginning to its natural end. The commandment of the Lord Jesus is that we should love each another. He did not give us any exceptions and we should not make any exceptions.”
Racism is incompatible with the Catholic Faith. Whether expressed by the attitudes or behaviour of an individual, or the behaviour of a group, or through the unjust structures in society that exclude or persecute people, there is no place for racism at any time or in any place, they write.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental rights on the grounds of sex, race, colour, social conditions, language or religion must be eradicated as incompatible with God’s design.”
Pope Francis said of the killing: “We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form.” He also said violence is self-destructive. “Nothing is gained by violence and so much is lost.”
The Southwark bishops say to the students: “Our Catholic Faith does more than condemn racism, it also calls us to challenge racism, to eliminate its causes and to heal the wounds it brings. We each have a part to play, first by making sure that we think of every other person as someone worthy of respect. We uphold the rights, the equality, and the sanctity of every human life. To God, and to us, every life is a gift and irreplaceable. We affirm that every person’s life matters and that the life of every black person matters.”
They continue: “We cannot be silent about racism. It must be challenged... Let the energy that comes from our anger be channelled into changing hearts and minds, beginning with our own, to speak truth in the service of peace.”