Category Archives: racism

Sheep in the Midst of Wolves

Dear Folks,
“Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd (clever/cunning/
crafty) as serpents and simple (innocent) as doves (Matthew 10:16).” The greater the evil
that we fight, the more important to hold ourselves to a higher standard of behavior. On
Amazon I saw a book called “In Defense of Looting” that apparently suggested that looting
was an effective tactic of protest. (Wasn’t Amazon the group that de-platformed Parler?
But they allow this?) If we say that our tactics are justified because our cause is so right and
just, we want to remember that Everyone’s cause is right and just in their minds, and those
tactics may be used for causes we don’t approve of. Many have pointed to those who
defended the rioting last summer as making it easier for others to believe they should break
into the capital. I highly recommend Ann Garrido’s book “Redeeming Conflict.” Her habit

4 is “Undo the knot of intention.” Good intentions do not guarantee good actions. The

scribes and Pharisees who opposed Jesus certainly thought of themselves as the good guys,
but they lacked self-reflection. They had a mighty lens for seeing any hint of fault in
others, but were blind to their own shortcomings, or dismissed them because they
considered themselves so good.
Of course, the Bible has some helpful stuff. Ephesians 4: 26 “Be angry but do not sin; do
not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil.” James 1:19-20
reminds us to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” and that our wrath “does not
fulfill the righteousness of God.” Matthew 12:36: “You shall be held accountable for every
idle word that you utter.” When we are about to say something or type something, imagine
talking with Jesus on the last day and explaining how this comment is serving the kingdom
and showing His goodness. Jesus was sometimes fierce, but He wasn’t mean for the sake of
being mean, no matter how much someone deserved it. Jesus was very angry in Matthew
23, but he didn’t stay there; he moved to sadness and mourning for Jerusalem. Then He
went to work.
In Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” he says, “In any nonviolent
campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices
are alive, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action.” He knew that their efforts needed
to be based on facts that would stand up to skeptical scrutiny. He did not just grab a few
tidbits of information that seemed to support his narrative. He describes their purification
like this: “We started having workshops on nonviolence and repeatedly asked ourselves the
questions, ‘Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?’ and ‘Are you able to endure
the ordeals of jail?’” This was disciplined and they held themselves to a very high
standard. They showed their power not with physical force but by imitating Jesus.
After the murder of George Floyd, there was a lot of consensus in this country, and a great
moment to have some serious conversation about how to prevent such things in the future.
There could have been serious steps taken so people could be confident that when they
interact with the police their lives would be protected and their dignity respected, as well as
the police being confident that if they do their jobs wrong there will be consequences and if
they do their jobs right their superiors and the community will stand by them. Then there
were riots night after night. The country was divided, and the moment was thrown away.
That may be the greatest tragedy of all.
I think we can heal as a nation. It will take a lot of self-examination. It will take many
deciding to look beyond their anger at what is wrong, to some well thought out strategies
for solving problems. It will require being clever as serpents and innocent as doves.
Fr. Jim



I’m going to bring up one of my least favorite topics in the whole wide world: the priest abuse scandal. A small percentage of priests did terrible, terrible harm, made far worse because priests have a sacred position of trust, and it was abused. Many times people in leadership positions were not effective in stopping them. It seems many were more concerned about protecting their friends and protecting the system than in protecting and helping victims, and that was as bad or worse than the original crime.
The priest who are trying our best to do what is right have been deeply angry, profoundly hurt, and bitterly disappointed.
Then came the moment when we had reached a tipping point, and something was ready to happen. The work was not perfect, but it was substantial. Much work was done to develop a transparent and accountable process for dealing with complains, one that would not allow things to get swept under the rug.
New practices were developed and new training was given. We put a lot of time and energy into making the Church a safe place and helping the Church to re-earn credibility. We learned practices that clarify what actions are innocent, and where the line is crossed. We learned to watch for signs that someone might be preparing to do something bad, actions that seem harmless, but are part of grooming victims and grooming families to give cover for crimes. This would also provide some protection against innocent people being accused because of misunderstandings or malicious accusations. We organized our buildings and our programs so that we could squeeze out any opportunity for a predator to act. It is not enough that everyone be safe; but people must also feel safe. Statistics are important, but they are not enough. They had to see in us that we were really trying to do it right. Priests also needed some confidence that if they did things right, people would have their back.
It has taken everyone’s cooperation. I said repeatedly, “We did not make this mess, but we must be a part of cleaning it up.”
It has also been necessary to challenge a culture that made things worse. Many priests, teachers, and people in leadership positions had absorbed some of secular society’s belief that sexual sins are no big deal and that the Church had been making too much fuss over them. This meant that when someone was tempted to do something horrible, they were not prepared to resist the temptation and take the danger seriously, possibly seeing a sign they needed help. Those who taught what they taught did not intend this, but consequences don’t care about intentions.
Some made it harder by using the situation for their own agendas, agendas that did not serve the protection of children. Some would condemn all priests or the whole Church. Some would treat every accusation or even rumor as a conviction.
It was essential not to let them drain the energy from the real work of solving the essential problems.
Imagine if, instead of doing all that, there had been a lot of hand-wringing, virtue signaling, and mouthing platitudes like “This must stop” and “We will no longer allow this” and nothing of substance was done. The moment would have been wasted, and nothing would have changed.
The horrific killing of George Floyd has cast a spotlight on another issue. A small percentage of police officers can do terrible damage. I have read that the guy who killed poor George had had seventeen complaints against him, but no action was taken. If that is true, it calls the question whether those in power were more interested in protecting their friends and protecting the institution than protecting the victims. I’m speaking carefully here, because I don’t have inside knowledge, but I do have questions.
How can people be confident that if they have an interaction with the police that their dignity will be respected and their safety protected? And if there are bad actors who violate their rights how can they be confident that they will be held accountable? How can police be confident that if they do things right, the community will have their back?
Can there be transparent standards that when there is an interaction between the police and a civilian, this is what the civilian should expect from the police, and this is what the police should expect from the civilian? Can there be a transparent process for complaints so if something goes wrong people know what they should expect? Can there be gatherings of local police and the local community so there is buy-in from all sides?
How can we all be more aware of how we perceive and misperceive each other? Perceptions can be are skewed by our experiences and stories. How can we have experiences and hear stories that will draw us together and not divide us? This problem seems to go deep, and the solution needs to be deep also. Can people share stories, experiences and concerns? Statistics are important but they are not enough. I don’t know about these issues; I just have questions. I’m desperately hoping that people who know more than I can build a path from here to where we need to go.
I have not heard one voice defending the killing of George Floyd. Not. One. Voice. The act was condemned by all sides. What if we start with what unites us? Please, please, let us not waste this moment.
St. Charles Borromeo was one of the great reformers of the Church at a time when the system had gone terribly wrong. He worked patiently, persistently, and selflessly, calling priests and bishops to get their act together and leading by example. He could have taken a much easier path. He chose not to. He didn’t make the mess, but he did a lot to clean it up. What will really help clean things up now?

We are All Brothers and Sisters


The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines racism as: “Unjust discrimination on the basis of a person’s race; a violation of human dignity, and a sin against justice (See section #1935).” A glance at history makes eminently clear that racism has caused huge amounts of harm for a very long time. The Catholic faith teaches (and modern science affirms) that we are all brothers and sisters.

I approach this topic with trepidation. There will be a lot of things that need to be said that I will not say, first because there is so much and I can only fit in a bit. More importantly, I don’t have the expertise or the experience. Much will have to be done by people who know much more than I. I do believe I should share a couple of thoughts for reflection. As with so many conversations these days, there seem to be people talking past each other, and I don’t see that we are moving toward making things better.

There has been some recent cases of white men killing black men, and their actions, so far as I know, have been universally condemned.  This has ripped open a lot of pain and anger that people have about violence, especially in connection to law enforcement.

I’m currently listening to the book With All Due Respect by Nikki Haley. She tells the story of the Charleston Church shooting in 2015, and the pain that followed.  The killer was arrested and convicted. It was found that he had expressed tremendous racial hatred. There was so much anger and pain after that. Haley tells of the challenge of bringing healing to the state and not let it be torn apart.  Part what she did was remove the Confederate flag from the state capital. She said she knew a lot of people who proudly flew the Confederate flag that did not match the stereotype associated with it, but the flag was a great source of pain to a lot of people, and had to be dealt with. There were many legislators that opposed that move fervently, and she persuaded enough of them by sharing her own experience. She still carries some raw pain because as a little girl she had seen her father being humiliated because he was an immigrant from India and wore a turban. There is nothing like hearing someone’s experience and the pain it causes.

One of the most important things we can do for people is to hear their story of their pain and take it seriously.  We don’t have to agree with their interpretation of what is happening, nor accept what they thing needs to be done, in order to hear their pain and take it seriously. We can disagree with a lot of things they think, but their pain is their pain, and it is real. I don’t think any progress can be made if people don’t have a sense that their pain is being heard and taken seriously. There have been many stories of people being humiliated because of their race, and even having their lives put at risk. It doesn’t have to happen very often to change the way they look at things. They have talked about being afraid for their children. An incident in the news can carry a lot more weight when they are already carrying this burden.

Where to go from there?  Perhaps we can look more deeply at the way the human brain works.  I would recommend two books by Malcolm Gladwell. He wrote a fascinating book called Blink. It is about how our brain makes some decisions without us being aware of it, much less how. Psychologists have known for decades that we are not completely objective, but Gladwell really drills down on it.  One issue is how there is a test that shows how people will more easily associate goodness with one race and badness with another race, and we don’t even know it. We want to be on the watch for how we make some bad decisions based on this unconscious bias. Gladwell also wrote a book called Talking to Strangers in which he unpacks the complexity of forming perceptions about people we are meeting. He wraps the study in the story of Sandra Bland, a black woman who was on her way to a new and promising career and was stopped for a minor traffic violation. The conversation with the officer gradually deteriorated, and she was taken into custody. She committed suicide in jail.  Gladwell’s book forms a basis for doing some analysis of what happened and why, as well as implications for training police, setting policy, and forming relationships between the law enforcement and the community.  This sets a different tone for the discussion and gives some solid ideas to work with.

I want to live in a world where everyone’s dignity is respected and everyone feels safe and is safe.  I’m hoping people who know more than I do and who are better positioned to act can do things that move us closer to there.

I can also pray.