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    Catholic Social Teaching and Racism
Racism is a sin; a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father. Racism is the sin that says some human beings are inherently superior and others essentially inferior because of races. It is the sin that makes racial characteristics the determining factor for the exercise of human rights. It mocks the words of Jesus: "Treat others the way you would have them treat you." Indeed, racism is more than a disregard for the words of Jesus; it is a denial of the truth of the dignity of each human being revealed by the mystery of the Incarnation.

Brothers and Sisters to Us All, 1979



1928 Society ensures social justice when it provides the conditions that allow associations or individuals to obtain what is their due, according to their nature and their vocation. Social justice is linked to the common good and the exercise of authority.

1929 Social justice can be obtained only in respecting the transcendent dignity of man. The person represents the ultimate end of society, which is ordered to him:

What is at stake is the dignity of the human person, whose defense and promotion have been entrusted to us by the Creator, and to whom the men and women at every moment of history are strictly and responsibly in debt.

1930 Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his dignity as a creature. These rights are prior to society and must be recognized by it. They are the basis of the moral legitimacy of every authority: by flouting them, or refusing to recognize them in its positive legislation, a society undermines its own moral legitimacy. If it does not respect them, authority can rely only on force or violence to obtain obedience from its subjects. It is the Church's role to remind men of good will of these rights and to distinguish them from unwarranted or false claims.

1931 Respect for the human person proceeds by way of respect for the principle that "everyone should look upon his neighbor (without any exception) as 'another self,' above all bearing in mind his life and the means necessary for living it with dignity." No legislation could by itself do away with the fears, prejudices, and attitudes of pride and selfishness which obstruct the establishment of truly fraternal societies. Such behavior will cease only through the charity that finds in every man a "neighbor," a brother.

1935 The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it:

Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God's design.


Intervention at the 59th Session of the United Nations
Commission on Human Rights
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin (2003)
Vatican Representative to the U.N.

In God's Image
Archbishop Harry Flynn (2003)
Archdiocese of St. Paul / Minneapolis

The Church and Racism: An Introductory Update
Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice (2001)

Dwell in My Love

Francis Cardinal George (2002)
Archdiocese of Chicago

Healing Racism Though Faith and Truth
Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua (1998)
Archdiocese of Philadelphia

The Church and Racism: Towards a More Fraternal Society
Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice (1988)

Brothers and Sisters to Us
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (1979)


Pontifical Commission on Justice and Peace

Church and Racism: Towards a More Fraternal Society
Pontifical Commission
on Justice and Peace
Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 1988.

The Church and Racism: An Introductory Update
Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice , 2001.

Intervention at the 59th Session of the United Nations Commission
on Human Rights

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Vatican Representative to the U.N., 2003.

United States Catholic Bishops
United States Catholic Conference of Bishops

Brothers and Sisters To Us: A Pastoral Letter on Racism
National Conference of Catholic Bishops
Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 1979.

What We Have Seen and Heard:
A Pastoral on Evangelization from the Black Bishops of the United States

Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1984.

For the Love of One Another:
A Special Message on the Occasion of the Tenth Anniversary

of Brothers and Sisters to Us
National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 1979.

A Statement on Racial Justice
New York State Catholic Bishops Conference, 1992.

Confronting Racism Today:
A Pastoral Letter
Most Reverend Donald Wuel, Pittsburgh, PA, 1994

We Are One People: A Pastoral Statement
Catholic Bishops of Washington State, 1996. 

Racism: A Tarnished Reflection of Ourselves: A Pastoral Letter
Most Reverend James Griffith, Columbus, Ohio, 1994

Healing Racism through Faith and Truth

Most Reverend Anthony Bevelicaqua, 1998.

Moving Beyond Racism:  Learning to See with the Eyes of Christ
Bishops of Illinois, 2000.

Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself: U.S. Catholic Bishops Speak Against Racism
Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000.

Solidarity: Arduous Journey to the "Promised Land"
Most Reverend Sean O’Malley, 2000.

Dwell in My Love: A Pastoral Letter on Racism
Most Reverend Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., 2001.

In God’s Image: A Pastoral Letter on Racism
Most Reverend Harry Flynn, Archbishop of St. Paul / Minneapolis, 2003.

One Bread, One Body: The 25th Commemoration of Brothers and Sisters to Us
Education Packet for the 25th Anniversary of Brothers and Sisters to Us – Diocese of Pittsburgh, 2004.

Related Documents

Strangers No Longer, Together on the Journey of Hope:
A Pastoral Letter Concerning Migration from the Catholic Bishops
of Mexico and the United States.

Washington: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2003.

International Documents 

A Generous Heart in the Love of Christ: Challenging Racism in Australia Today 
The Catholic Bishops of Australia, 2003.

The Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference Statement

Department of Justice and Peace Department, 2004.

Ecumenical Documents

Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity and Culture

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 1993.

The Sin of Racism: A Pastoral Letter 

The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church, 1994.

Racism is a Sin

Ecumenical Caucus Statement - U.N. World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination,
Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, 2001.

Related Books and Articles

Baum, Gregory and Coleman, John, ed. The church and racism, Concilium. January, 1982. 
Seabury Press.

Consultation on Church Union. Call to Christian commitment and action to combat racism. 
Ecumenical Trends, 28: 7-9 (Nov 1999).

Davies, Susan E. and, Sister Paul Teresa Hennessee, S.A., (eds.) Ending Racism in the Church. 
Cleveland, OH: United Church Press. 

Davis, Cyprian  & Phelps, Jamie (eds.). Stamped with the image of God: African Americans 
as God's image in black. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2003.
Duffey, Michael K. Sowing justice, reaping peace: Case studies of racial, religious 
and ethnic healing around the world. Franklin, WI: Sheed & Ward, 2001. 
Heckel, Roger. The struggle against racism: Some contributions of the Church. Vatican, 
Pontifical Commission Justice and Peace, 1979.
Martin, Diarmuid. Racism: Educating future generations to a different vision of
human relations.  Origins, 32(44): 729-730 (Apr 17, 2003).
Martin, Diarmuid. Combat racism with education. Osservatore Romano 
(Weekly edition in English), 1787: 6 (Apr 2, 2003).
Martin, Diarmuid. Racism in the 21st Century: A Catholic perspective. 
National Catholic Register, 77(37): 6 (Sep 16-22, 2001).          
Massingale, Bryan. The ethics of racism justice. Origins, 28: 424-428 (Nov 26 1998).
Mason, David R. A Christian alternative to (Christian) racism and anti-Semitism. 
Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 37(2): 151-160 (Spring 2001)
McTernan, Oliver J. The racism we don't see. Tablet, 255: 79 (Jan 20 2001).
Melczek, Dale J, Created in God's image: The sin of racism and a call to conversion.   
Origins, 33(16): 264-272 (Sep 25 2003).
Myers, Ched. How racist is the Church? Priests & People, 16(5): 169 (May 2002).
Perkinson, Jim. The color of the enemy in the new millennium. Cross Currents, 50:349-368 (Aut 2000).

O'Malley, Sean . Solidarity: The antidote to resurgent racism. Origins, 29:529+ (Feb 3 2000).
Swift, John (Reviewer). Responding to racism: A challenge and a task for the Catholic
Community, Studies, 91(364): 402-403 (Winter 2002).

Compiled by Christopher M. Janosik, Ed.D., Managing Editor, Journal of Catholic Social Thought.



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