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Black Catholic clergy speak out on White Supremacist massacre in Buffalo

A number of African-American priests and bishops have lent their voices to the chorus condemning the racist shootings in upstate New York last weekend.

US Black Catholic priests and bishops have spoken out on the White Supremacist massacre perpetrated by 18-year-old Payton S. Gendron on Saturday in Buffalo, New York, in which 10 African Americans were killed following the shooter’s publishing of a 180-page racist manifesto.

The first statement from an African-American prelate condemning the tragedy came on Monday, May 16th from Archbishop Shelton Fabre of Louisville, who chairs the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism.

“As we are all made in the image and likeness of God, for any group to be violently targeted because of the color of their skin is an affront to our loving God,” he wrote.

“Please join me in praying for the people of Buffalo and all communities affected by racial hatred and violence.”

Fabre’s statement came amidst cries for a stronger response from US Catholic bishops—following an initial statement from the Bishop of Buffalo, Michael W. Fisher, which made no mention of racism at all.

The USCCB itself released a statement on Monday—though, unlike its previous statements on mass shootings, coming from its lay spokesperson, Chieko Noguchi, rather than from any specific bishop or committee.

Like that statement, Fabre’s does not mention White Supremacy or the specific races of anyone involved in the shooting.

On Tuesday morning, Bishop Emeritus John Ricard, SSJ of Pensacola-Tallahassee—Fabre’s first cousin once removed—released a statement naming all of the above.

He currently serves as superior general of the Josephites, the Church's only male religious community which specifically serves African Americans.

“These poor victims were guilty of being African American and having the audacity to shop at a grocery store in the middle of the day,” he wrote.

“We continue to condemn violence, white supremacy, and hatred repeatedly and like other episodes, we are growing numb and weary with our seemingly daily grief.”

The statements from Ricard and Fabre were first released by the National Black Catholic Congress, co-founded by Ricard in 1987 and governed in part by the Black bishops of the United States.

As of early Thursday morning, none in that group besides Fabre and Ricard have spoken on the Buffalo shooting, including the Archbishop of Washington, Wilton Gregory—the nation’s first-ever Black cardinal.

The National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus, however, of which all the African-American bishops are members, released a scathing statement this week critiquing both the shooting and the “vile specter of racism”.

“Unfortunately, what we saw last Saturday is becoming normal,” they said via their board of directors, headed by Deacon Mel Tardy of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

“Why does our Catholic Magisterium – those entrusted with Church teachings -- witness what occurred in Buffalo, NY, and remain silent? Why does it not see the hypocrisy of a “pro-life” Church which is consistently silent about the suffering of Black lives targeted by racism?”

The NBCCC statement comes amidst growing controversy concerning the anti-abortion cause within the US Catholic Church, which has reached a fever pitch following the leak of a Supreme Court draft signaling the likely overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Many Catholics nationwide, and African-American Catholics in particular, have long questioned the overemphasis on abortion in the face of various other social issues threatening the lives of Americans outside the womb.

“Like any evil, racism is a fire that burns indiscriminately. Left unchecked, it will burn within our walls and gladly consume the entire village,” the NBCCC statement reads.

“We, the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus, cannot be silent.”

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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