Pope speaks out on George Floyd’s death

WelCom July 2020: Pope Francis spoke out against the sin of racism in a speech about George Floyd’s death that was broadcast around the world. After an eighth night of…

WelCom July 2020:

Pope Francis spoke out against the sin of racism in a speech about George Floyd’s death that was broadcast around the world.

Bishop Mark J Seitz of the Diocese of El Paso, Texas, kneels at El Paso’s Memorial Park holding a Black Lives Matter sign June 1, 2020. Bishop Seitz and other clergy from the Diocese of El Paso, prayed and kneeled for eight minutes, the time George Floyd, an unarmed black man in Minneapolis, was said to have spent under a police officer’s knee before becoming unconscious and later dying on May 25, 2020.
Photo: Fernie Ceniceros, Diocese of El Paso/CNS

After an eighth night of protests across the United States, Pope Francis addressed Floyd’s death during his weekly Angelus prayer at the Vatican on Wednesday, 3 June. The Pope called the death of George Floyd at the hands of US police officers ‘tragic’ and said he is praying for him and ‘all those others who have lost their lives as a result of the sin of racism.’

He said the sin exists among those who say they fight for all human life – yet it doesn’t fit with the belief system that defends human life at all stages.

‘We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life,’ Francis said. ‘Today, I join…in praying for the repose of the soul of George Floyd and of all those others who have lost their lives as a result of the sin of racism.’

The intensity and consistency of the Vatican’s reaction on this issue suggests that, from the Pope on down, the Vatican is seeking to encourage anti-racism protesters and to send a message to US Catholics about the importance of this event as a pro-life issue. For example, Francis rang to praise Texan Bishop Mark Seitz who was photographed kneeling in prayer at a Black Lives Matter protest. Seitz said the Pope thanked him without mentioning the demonstration, but the context was clear: ‘My recent words and actions on the events that are taking place in the country now’ after Floyd’s killing. 

‘That’s what our Catholic Christian faith is all about: It’s about the fact that God has loved humanity enough – not just one group…that he chose to become one of us,’ Bishop Seitz said. ‘When it comes to racism, clearly this is a sin that causes division, and it is against the will of God.’

Reflecting on the widespread protests in America, Bishop Seitz wrote: ‘When religion becomes stagnant, we can forget that the Word always comes to us crucified and powerless. As James Cone [founder of Black liberation theology] puts it, in America, the word comes tortured, black and lynched. Today we meet Jesus in those tear-gassed, tasered, strangled and snuffed out. That’s why the church teaches a preferential option for the poor.  And why the church stands up for life wherever and whenever it is devalued and threatened. 

Demonstrators march down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC, USA, on June 3, protesting against police brutality and the death of George Floyd. Protests in cities throughout the world have been held in solidarity.
Photo: Ted Eytan

Pope Francis has not been alone in making the Vatican’s views known on the racial tensions in America. While the Holy See would be loath to be seen as picking sides prior to the US election, its media operation has made clear its backing for peaceful protests, denouncing injustices suffered by black Americans.

L’Osservatore Romano newspaper featured three Floyd-related stories on its front page. The first was that one million people were expected to protest that day in Washington. A second story was about a video showing two US police officers shoving 75-year-old Martin Gugino, a white Catholic protestor, to the ground in Buffalo. ‘Go watch it please,’ the article said. Its third story was about a prayer service presided over by the highest-ranking American at the Vatican, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, who decried how America’s constitutional ideals were failing its black citizens.

A number of commentators have seen these strong statements from the Pope and the Vatican as significant, coming in an election year.

Anthea Butler of Yale Divinity School said Francis ‘wants to send a very clear message to these conservative Catholics here who are pro-Trumpers that, “Listen, this is just as much of an issue as abortion is”’.

Sources: NCR, Crux

~ ‘Equality and Human Respect’ – Cardinal Kevin Farrell’s homily at the Prayer Vigil celebrated in Rome ‘for peaceful coexistence in the USA’: https://www.osservatoreromano.va/en/news/2020-06/equality-and-human-respect.html