Catholic blogger Rocco Palmo greeted the remarks more favorably than many did former President Jimmy Carter's declaration that President Barack Obama is besieged by racism. Note that other Catholic disagreement we found was civil in this important, widely overlooked moment in our long national debate over "racism" and its effects.
Black Catholic Bishop J. Terry Steib of the Diocese of Memphis reflected Saturday on the "subtle racism" which had resulted in "a relative dearth of black Catholic leadership" in 1984, when Black Catholic bishops issued their own pastoral letter: What We Have Seen and Heard [.pdf].
Keynote speaker at a symposium marking the silver jubilee of the landmark 1984 letter, he also said that despite a quarter of a century's progress, that same racism recently caused a furor in Catholic circles over Notre Dame University's award of an honorary degree to President Barack Obama. He told the audience at Philadelphia's St. Raymond Church that other presidents have had disagreements with the positions of the Catholic Church in in war policies and capital punishment and the like, but have received honorary degrees without similar objection. That racism, he said, is doing the church ongoing harm.
Lou Baldwin of the Catholic Standard Times wrote:
It is the subtle racism that still exists which contributes to the lack of priestly vocations among young black men because "it leads to a mistrust of the Church among young black men and women," he said. "Let's acknowledge that." On the other hand, the African-American community "has contributed to some of the difficulties they are facing," Bishop Steib said, quoting Obama on the collapse of the two-parent family in the black community and the failure of many black men to live up to responsibilities to their children.
The pastoral letter being celebrated dealt less with the effects of Catholic racism than with the special gifts, culture, and values shared African American Catholics bring to their church and their path in the faith.
Yet there was no possibility of omitting racism from the discussion while also being honest for racism an overarching characteristic of American life, not of denomination.
Speaking into the gale of uproar of Obama's school speech black Southern Baptist pastor Dwight McKissic did not flinch from it either. Bob Allen of the Associated Baptist Press summarized McKissic's view:
"Whenever a black man ascends to prominence and power, the political establishment tries to demonize that person," McKissic said. He quoted the late Jerry Falwell, who in 1961 questioned "left-wing associations" of Martin Luther King. "They were accusing him of being a communist and a socialist like they accuse Barack Obama of being a communist and socialist." ... McKissic said many white preachers want God to judge America for abortion and gay marriage. McKissic said he feels strongly on both of those issues but believes that racism is also a sin, and God must judge America for that sin as well.