The archbishop of Portland, Oregon is urging Catholics to learn about and study how to respond to the sin of racism, while at the same time condemning the violence accompanying many of the protests in the city for the past two months.
“This all began over the terrible, tragic killing of a man, and initially the outcry against injustice, against racism, was well-placed, and I have been very supportive of the peaceful demonstrations on behalf of justice and against racism,” Archbishop Alexander Sample said in a July 24 video message, referencing the protests sparked by the May 25 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
“But sadly, that’s not what this is about any more,” he said.
Portland has now surpassed 60 straight days of street protests, often taking the form of crowds of hundreds of people protesting, ostensibly, against racism, police brutality, and fascim. The protests have garnered national and international headlines.
Some of the protests have been accompanied by riots and looting. In addition to extensive property damage in the city’s downtown, there have been occasional incidents of violence within or adjacent to the protests, including shootings and stabbings.
Sample, in his video message, emphasized that as shepherd of the city’s Catholics, it is not his place to “get political” and take sides, despite requests via email and mail for him to speak out for one side or another.
Still, he said, checking the news morning after morning, and seeing every night that there was more destruction has been “depressing” and “embarrassing.”
“Who remembers George Floyd any more? Stop and think about that for a second,” he said.
“We need to speak the truth in love, and not be afraid to speak up. I think the vast majority of people don’t buy into what’s going on right now, especially with the violence and the destruction of property and looting.”
Catholics— and anyone, for that matter— should be outraged at the sin of racism, said Sample, but Catholics must be careful, rational and calm, and should avoid “virtue signaling,” instead putting in the work to actually grow in virtue and to turn to Catholic social teaching in response to racism.
The Church teaches that every person has a dignity that we, as humans, do not bestow on other humans, but rather comes from God, the archbishop said.
Sample strongly encouraged everyone to read the U.S. bishops’ 2018 letter on racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts,” and instructed Portland’s parishes to organize groups to ready, study, and discuss the letter.
Protesters in Portland have at various times fired commercial-grade fireworks at the federal courthouse— the epicenter of the violence— and have thrown rocks, cans, water bottles, and potatoes at federal agents, the AP reported. On July 26, the protestors attempted to burn the courthouse down, police reported.
Police have occasionally used tear gas and pepper spray against protesters. Federal agents garnered criticism last week after videos appeared to show them pulling protestors into unmarked vehicles.
The need to eradicate racism is serious, Sample said, but any violence in the debate must be “unequivocally” rejected as another evil, “piling one evil upon another.”
Sample said he has heard many try to justify the violence, but in contrast, he pointed to Martin Luther King, Jr., as a great example of nonviolent resistance. Sample said King and his followers often suffered violence, but did not repay violence in kind, instead praying for their persecutors as Jesus says to do in the Gospel.
Sample decried what he said appear to be efforts in the U.S. to “erase our past,” as well as to be too quick to judge the past based on our current virtues. Rather we should learn from our mistakes, looking back and acknowledging that there are many examples of evil in our past.
So many of our problems today are because society has largely turned away from God, he said.
If more people would realize that they are called to greatness, holiness, virtue, to eternity and to heaven, they would not seek other, worldly ways to fill the void in our hearts, he said.