Pope Francis on the death of George Floyd: We cannot tolerate racism and claim to defend life

By Gerard O’Connell, 27 July 2020
A man walks in front of a mural in honour of George Floyd. Image: Vatican News.



Only those who are trapped in moral blindness could fail to see that racism has been a scourge in human history. We Australians, especially, have to bow our heads in shame for our treatment of own indigenous peoples, which has often been a disgrace.

A passing knowledge of the immense suffering and cruelty of the slave trade in North and South America and its profoundly negative ongoing effects in countries like the USA (to name just one)  should also call us anew to conversion.

Yes, Jesus of Nazareth, who was literally executed by capital punishment, as a common criminal, most certainly asks us Catholics to see him in the crucified and ‘lynched’.  These contemporary suffering victims of systemic racism, such as George Lloyd, cannot be ignored or ‘explained away’. 

When Christ warned us in Matthew 25 that we will be judged by how we treat the prisoners, the sick and the poor, he did not say they had to be ‘deserving’ or ‘perfect’. No, Christ our Saviour demanded that we treat these people as Himself literally.

Thank God Pope Francis has the moral vision to call all Catholics to overcome their prejudices and open their eyes to the evil of racism crucifying so many of our sisters and brothers. His words deserve our close attention:

On June 3, Pope Francis spoke of his “great concern” at “the disturbing social unrest” in the United States following “the tragic death of George Floyd,” which he attributed to “the sin of racism.” “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,” the pope said.

He did so in a message addressed to his “dear brothers and sisters in the United States,” meaning the entire nation and not just its 70 million Catholics, a senior Vatican source told America. He spoke to them during his virtual public audience from the library of the apostolic palace on June 3, which was carried by Vatican Media.

His words during the audience and later in a statement indicated that he considers George Floyd’s death to be a result of racism. His carefully chosen words left no room for equivocation: Any Catholic who claims “to defend the sacredness of every human life” must combat racism and exclusion in all its forms.

Francis is well aware that a sizable number of Catholics and other Christians in the United States limit the defence of “the sacredness of human life” mainly to abortion, but do not view racism, the death penalty or other forms of exclusion—like mistreatment of migrants—as life issues. In his message, the pope underlined the full teaching of the church regarding “the defence of the sacredness of every human life” as expressed in the Second Vatican Council. He does not want this teaching to be reduced and manipulated for political or ideological reasons.

To continue reading this article, click here.

This article also appeared in print, under the headline “With an eye on the U.S., Francis deplores ‘racism and exclusion’,” in the June 22, 2020, issue.

Gerard O’Connell is America’s Vatican correspondent.

With thanks to America Magazine and Gerard O’Connell, where this article originally appeared.


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