With deadly violence following a rally of white supremacists this past weekend in Charlottesville, Va., bishops throughout the nation denounced racism and racist ideologies. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and domestic justice chairman Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Fla., issued a statement on Sunday condemning “the evil of racism, white supremacy and neo-nazism.” They also prayed for peaceful counter-protesters, saying that “our prayer turns today, on the Lord's Day, to the people of Charlottesville who offered a counter example to the hate marching in the streets.”
“Let us especially remember those who lost their lives. Let us join their witness and stand against every form of oppression,” they said. This past weekend, a planned “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., to protest the city’s removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee drew white supremacists including neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members. A counter-protest, including a diverse coalition of religious leaders and members of the Antifa and Black Lives Matter movements, was formed.
On Saturday, a man drove a car into the counter-protest, injuring 19 and killing one, 32 year-old Heather Heyer of Charlottesville, the AP reported. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the incident “does meet the definition of domestic terrorism in our statute,” and promised to “protect the right of people, like Heather Heyer, to protest against racism and bigotry.” Two Virginia State troopers also lost their lives near Charlottesville as they responded to the situation there, when their helicopter crashed in Albemarle County.
Catholic bishops denounced the violence but also explicitly condemned the racist ideology amidst the “Unite the Right” gathering. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia stated on Sunday that “the wave of public anger about white nationalist events in Charlottesville this weekend is well warranted.” “Racism is a poison of the soul. It’s the ugly, original sin of our country, an illness that has never fully healed. Blending it with the Nazi salute, the relic of a regime that murdered millions, compounds the obscenity,” he said.
Bishop Martin Holley of Memphis called the racist rallies and the violence “appalling.” “May this shocking incident and display of evil ignite a commitment among all people to end the racism, violence, bigotry and hatred that we have seen too often in our nation and throughout the world,” he said.
Other bishops on Twitter explicitly condemned racism over the weekend as well, in response to the unrest. “Racism is a grave sin rooted in pride, envy and hatred. It suffocates the soul by means of expelling from it the charity of Christ,” Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas tweeted on Saturday night. “Pray for an end to the evil of racism. And pray, especially today, for its victims. Pray for justice and mercy in our nation,” Bishop James Conley of Lincoln tweeted on Saturday afternoon.
However, Americans cannot only condemn racism in statements, but must also pray and work for a collective conversion of heart, Archbishop Chaput said. “If our anger today is just another mental virus displaced tomorrow by the next distraction or outrage we find in the media, nothing will change,” he said. “Charlottesville matters. It’s a snapshot of our public unraveling into real hatreds brutally expressed; a collapse of restraint and mutual respect now taking place across the country.”
“If we want a different kind of country in the future, we need to start today with a conversion in our own hearts, and an insistence on the same in others,” he said. “That may sound simple. But the history of our nation and its tortured attitudes toward race proves exactly the opposite.”
Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. also called for “soul searching” in the wake of the unrest. “We must always identify hate for what it is, but the inevitable pointing of fingers of blame after the fact only entrenches division,” he said on his blog. “We as a nation must also engage in soul searching about how it is that there is so much social unrest and violence in our communities. After years of seeing the flames of resentment and division fanned by incitement to bitterness and distrust, should we not now be actively seeking reconciliation and a return to civility?” he asked. “At this time, as Christians, as disciples of Jesus, we must redouble our efforts to bear a witness for peace and the common good,” he said.
President Donald Trump condemned the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides – on many sides. It's been going on for a long time in our country.”
Vice President Mike Pence, in a joint press conference on Sunday with Colombia University President Juan Manuel Santos, expressed condolences to the families of Hyer and the two state troopers. “We have no tolerance for hate and violence, from white supremacists, neo-Nazis, or the KKK. These dangerous fringe groups have no place in American public life and in the American debate, and we condemn them in the strongest possible terms,” he said. “Our administration is bringing the full resources of the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the violence that ensued yesterday in Charlottesville. And we will hold them to account, under the law,” he said.