Friday, 13 January 2017

Is the Church racist?

The Church of England was recently accused of being institutionally racist.

So what of the Catholic Church? The Cof E does at least have a black bishop and archbishop  (Archbishop of York, John Sentamu), the Catholic Church that has no Black And Minority Ethnic (Bame) bishop at all?

The late Haynes Baptiste, former chair of the Catholic Association for Racial Justice (CARJ), regularly raised the question of when the first black bishop would be appointed in England and Wales. Sadly, Haynes, who died last year, never lived to see his dream fulfilled.
The Catholic Church has in the past moved to address problems of lack of representation of BAME. Indeed, the very setting up of CARJ, came as part of a response to what was then (1980s) perceived as a drift away from the Church by a number of BAME who felt they were not really being included.

CARJ has held congresses, done outreach work with communities - including some particularly excellent work with a number of schools.

A question raised though in the early years of CARJ and down the years has been whether BAME are being assimilated or integrated into the Church.

Assimilation amounts to allowing BAME to attend, take part, give via the collection but not play an integral part in the life and governance of the Church.

Integration means welcoming newcomers into the parishes as equals, enabling them to play active roles. It means parishes being prepared to change in ways influenced by the different races coming in.

There was genuine soul searching at the time of Lord McPherson’s inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence. A number of public bodies were found to be institutionally racist, with the Catholic Church acknowledging that it had some way to go to become a truly diverse representative church.

Fortunately, the Church has moved toward the integration model in many ways. Advances have been made, but there is still a long way to go. Not that looking purely at the clergy should be the way to measure diversity and integration in the Church.

Some would argue there simply aren’t the priests available at the moment to meet the needs. The fact that there is a lack of BAME priests is co-incidental, given that there is a general lack of priests.

The wider concern is whether the Church consider racial integration as a job done. There certainly seems to be less priority given to race issues today.

Some might argue the work of CARJ has been downgraded, with Racial Justice Sunday now becoming a movable feast.

But on the other  side, the Church has stood out as a beacon of hope on issues like migration. Cardinal Vincent Nichols has spoken out in support of migrants at times of vitriolic attacks in the media on those who come to live and work in the UK. So the Church does have a proud record when it comes to a number of elements of the racial justice agenda. But as ever more can always be done.

A better representation amongst the clergy and hierarchy of the great racial diversity that sits in the pews of the Catholic Church would be welcome. However, the Church needs to go further, if it really wants to challenge claims that it is institutionally racist. A national audit process looking at diocese and schools could reveal just how much different races are being integrated into the Church.

The result of such an audit should then lead to some real reforms that can lead to a more integrated and representative church. These changes would be to the benefit of all, given that a Church that pulls together, maximising the potential of all its parts will be far stronger than one simply papering over the cracks of racial division.
* Racial Justice Sunday is on 12 February 2017
 - published in the Universe - 13/1/2017

No comments:

Post a Comment