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Bishop Joseph Perry of Chicago to head USCCB anti-racism committee

The oft-conservative Black Catholic bishop was appointed by Archbishop Timothy Broglio to succeed Archbishop Shelton Fabre of Louisville.

WASHINGTON — Bishop Joseph N. Perry of Chicago, an African-American auxiliary in the Archdiocese of Chicago, has been named the new chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism.

The news was publicized by the USCCB on May 10, and the appointment comes at the hands of the conference president Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Military Services, elected to his post in November.

Perry succeeds Archbishop Shelton Fabre of Louisville, who had served as chair of the anti-racism committee since 2018 and recently requested that a successor be named, according to a USCCB statement.

The committee, best known for its flagship document released in 2018, “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love,” was founded in 2017 in the wake of the Charlottesville car attack that August, in which a White Supremacist drove through an anti-racist protest, killing one and injuring 35 others.

Formed to “address the sin of racism and the urgent need to come together to find solutions,” it has been headed by Black Catholic bishops throughout its existence, the first being Bishop George V. Murry, SJ of Youngstown.

“The need to condemn, and combat, the demonic ideologies of white supremacy, neo-Nazism and racism has become especially urgent at this time. Our efforts must be constantly led and accompanied by prayer—but they must also include concrete action,” the USCCB’s executive committee said in a statement upon the committee’s founding.

Perry, today one of five active African-American Catholic bishops, has served in the Chicago chancery since 1998, when he was appointed as an auxiliary by Pope John Paul II. He previously served as a parish priest for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and as a canonist and seminary professor.

Since 2004, Perry has served as the chair of the USCCB’s Subcommittee on African American Affairs, where he serves alongside two other Black bishops and a number of clerical and lay Black Catholic consultants.  He is also the diocesan postulator for the sainthood cause of Venerable Augustus Tolton, the nation’s first openly Black Catholic priest.

Perry has also been a supporter of anti-racism initiatives in Chicago, through the Tolton cause, the Knights of Peter Claver, and other avenues. He is known to have helped author Cardinal Francis George, OMI’s 2001 pastoral letter on racism, “Dwell in My Love,” and authored his own piece the same year, entitled “The Catholic Church’s Role in Combating Racism.”

Prominent voices in the U.S. Church have also called Perry a figure with “crossover appeal,” as a Black supporter of anti-racism as well as the Traditional Latin Mass. Perry has become known nationally for his conservatism and support for the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, which celebrate the Extraordinary Form at St. John Cantius Church near downtown Chicago.

Perry has also appeared to speak critically of both all-White and Black Catholic parishes, telling seminarians in September 2020 that “when we celebrate the Eucharist and we are obviously and routinely one group alone, absent some measure of the variety of the Christian faithful, we should genuinely sense an ecclesial incompleteness and then do something about it.”

During Black Catholic History Month the same year, he was published in an interview saying that “single-race or predominantly ethnic parishes are not the ideal.”

“White and Black do not know each other. We seldom experience each other, so there are these fears about the other… If I was a married man, I wouldn’t want my kids hanging around one race all the time, all African Americans,” he added in a separate interview the same month. Just two months later, half a dozen Black parishes in Chicago were closed by the archdiocese, with Cardinal Blase Cupich citing declining membership and financial woes.

In a November 2022 interview with The Pillar, Perry spoke positively of the work of the anti-racism committee, and of his grounding in the socially conscious ministry of the Capuchin Franciscans, who educated him in high school seminary.

“They were working in African-American parishes in places like Detroit and Chicago and Indiana. They had missionary locations in Central America, Nicaragua, and up in Native American reservations in Montana and so forth,” he said.

“So I always had that training and that backdrop and as a youngster.”

Five months after the interview, The Pillar broke the news of Perry’s appointment to head the committee, citing a communique circulated among the U.S. bishops two days before Perry turned 75—the mandated age for bishops to send a retirement request to the Vatican. It is unclear when the Vatican will accept the request, and whether Perry would continue to serve as committee chair beyond that point. Perry is one of two Black Catholic auxiliary bishops in the U.S. who have turned 75 but have not been officially retired by the pope.

The ad hoc committee itself, which was authorized for a second three-year term under Fabre in 2020, is due to expire at the USCCB’s plenary meeting in November of this year, pending any further extensions.

Broglio, who was chair of the committee that approved the second term, faced criticism for allowing the committee to be funded by potentially meddlesome outside sources, including the Knights of Columbus and the Black and Indian Mission Office (BIMO), the latter being headed by an all-White board of directors. One of them, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, serves on the USCCB executive committee, which appointed Perry to the anti-racism post.

Fabre, who then headed the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, said in 2020 that he expected the anti-racism committee to be funded from within the USCCB itself by “2023 or thereabout.”

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger and a seminarian with the Josephites.

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