Pope Francis and Black Catholics

I’ve been quiet thus far about the ongoing “pope-a-polooza” going on in NYC, since I wasn’t sure that I have much to say. However, I was interested in a number of articles about black Catholics that have appeared in the last week or so.

Pope Francis is supposed to visit an inner city Catholic school that serves a mostly black student body today:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/what-the-popes-visit-means-for-black-catholics_56042cf0e4b08820d91bf54c

I was also interested that this article states that black Catholics, who constitute three percent of the overall American Catholic population are more likely to engage in “traditional” practices, attend mass weekly, and be content with their parish life. Despite this, from a conservotrad or traditionalist perspective, black Catholics tend to be seen as part of the problem in the church today, at least in the sense that black parishes prefer gospel style music (i.e., “inculturated)” during mass, rather than the more Euro-centric music that First Things, the National Catholic Register, and the New Liturgical Movement assures us that “real Catholics” are supposed to favor. Many black parishes even have *gasp* liturgical dance, which conservotrads and traditionalists believe is the absolute worst thing you can possibly do in a Catholic mass. While I myself prefer “classical music, the conservotrad and traditionalist belief that the black musical tradition is completely without merit was never something I could get behind, which was one reason why I couldn’t stay in the church (that and the fact that I came to realize that the claims made by Christianity as a whole were empirically wrong).

At the same time, black Catholics want Pope Francis to issue an apology for the Catholic church’s role in slavery and segregation:

http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/black-catholics-ask-pope-apology

Unsurprisingly, even at a “liberal” site like the National Catholic Reporter, most of the commenters are complaining about the idea that the Catholic church should be apologizing for anything, and that those black Catholic wanting an apology are just a bunch of malcontents wanting to play the victim. How dare blacks complain about being subjected to genocide and gross human rights violations! What’s next, wanting to sit in the front of the bus?

I think the difficulty some of the NCReporter commenters felt with the idea of the pope apologizing for the Catholic church’s role in American slavery and Jim Crow comes from the generalized discomfort of having to acknowledge these things happened at all. Black people are quite literally the red-headed bastards of American life and history. To look at black person or even to acknowledge black history as a thing is a reminder that the United States isn’t exactly a “shining city on a hill.” To acknowledge black Catholic history forces white Catholics to admit that Catholics were no better than Protestants when it comes to its (mis)treatment of blacks, and in many cases directly benefited from being an exploiter of black labor:

http://georgetownvoice.com/2007/02/08/the-jesuits-slaves/

While it is true that many blacks benefited from Catholic education during the Jim Crow era, Catholic school administrators were often not thrilled at having to deal with them, as this essay by Mary C. Curtis illustrated:

http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2015/09/22/442509427/pope-francis-inspires-black-catholics-despite-complicated-church-history-on-race

Pope Francis is popular among black Catholics because of his advocacy on behalf of the poor, marginalized, homeless, and despised, the exact reasons why so many conservotrads and traditionalists hate him. Demographically speaking, however, it’s the views of black Catholics that are ascendant in the church. Europeans form a minority within the Catholic church (26 percent), while the majority of Catholic reside in the Global South (39 percent in Latin America, 16 percent in sub-Saharan Africa, and 12 percent in Asia).

The Global Catholic Population

So much for “The Faith is Europe, and Europe is the Faith.” The poor of the world, the black and brown people, are ascendant in the church, while whites are declining. Indeed, to quote the bible, one could say that the stones [i.e., people of color] which the builders have rejected have become the cornerstone of the Catholic church. Is this the Lord’s doing? As an atheist, I’d say no, but as a scholar of religion, it is quite interesting in my eyes.

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2 thoughts on “Pope Francis and Black Catholics

  1. Dear Leah,

    I’m an editor from The Northwest Review, an upcoming website interested in publishing content like yours. I’m writing to you, wondering if you’d be at all interested in contributing something on the subject of (to borrow your term) the “pope-a-polooza.” I personally found this angle very interesting, but I’m sure others exist that you could explore if you were at all intrigued.

    If you’re interested, please get in touch at contact@thenorthwestreview.com. If not, please keep up the excellent writing.

    Best,
    Alex

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