If there was ever a time to remember Pope Francis’s call for a bold “church in the streets,” the ugly events in Charlottesville this past weekend serve as that moment. The Catholic responses to the white supremacists who showed up to intimidate and inflict violence were a mix of encouraging, problematic, and inadequate.
The U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops released an initial statement on Saturday afternoon from Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the Conference, that condemned the “abhorrent acts of hatred” and the “evil ideology” that inspires them. The bishops pledged to work with “all people of goodwill for an end to racial violence.” The fact that there was no specific reference to white supremacists sparked some discontent from Catholic commentators on Twitter.
“Something at last,” tweeted Stephen Schneck, who worked closely with bishops as the former director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America. “But where is the explicit condemnation of white supremacy?” The next day the Conference issued a stronger statement that condemned the “evil of racism, white supremacy and neo-Nazism.”
The most bewildering and inadequate response from a bishop came from Richmond Bishop Francis DiLorenzo, who offered prayers that “those on both sides can talk and seek solutions to their differences respectfully.” This framing, which unwittingly or not sent a message that two equally legitimate movements should find common ground, echoed the absurd false equivalency at the heart of President Donald Trump’s widely criticized reference to the “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.” DiLorenzo faced a wave of criticism on social media. “Are you really suggesting Nazis and anti-Nazis should just try to come up with compromises and mutually agreeable solutions?” one person asked on Facebook. The bishop seemed to hear the criticism. In a later statement, he called “hatred, and its manifestations of racism, neo-Nazism, and white supremacy sins against God and profoundly wound the children of God.”