Dear CNN: The Catholic Church Has No Official Opinion on Trayvon or George Zimmerman – Get Over It

GoodSamaritanWe’re damned if we do and we’re double damned if we don’t.

Today, CNN’s “award winning religion reporter” Jeffrey Weiss, wrote a piece titled, “White Churches Uncommonly Quiet After Zimmerman Verdict.”

At my parish, which is Catholic, we have a black deacon, Filipinos, Chinese, Hispanics and Lord only knows what else.  We don’t ask.  Race cards are not required.

After getting past what the “black” churches’ pastors had to say, Weiss gave this screed:

The most notable silence is from the American Catholic hierarchy, who head a church that claims to have nearly 70 million members.

It’s not necessarily surprising that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has not issued a  comment. The conference is large and sometimes moves slowly.

But it has committees that can be more nimble.

The day after Vermont legalized assisted suicide, for instance, Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, warned of a “slippery slope” and urged Catholics to fight the future passage of such laws.

But there’s been nothing I can find from any Catholic committees this week.

Nothing from Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, the conference president. Nothing from the bishops’ Subcommittee on African American Affairs. Nothing from Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, former president of the conference and the first black man to hold the office.

In fact, when I searched the web for “Catholic” and “Bishop” and “Trayvon” and “Zimmerman” and “verdict” over the past week, I found only one bishop on the record: Retired Bishop John H. Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida, now president of the National Black Catholic Congress. And that wasn’t until Friday.

Ricard told Catholic News Service that it is proper for the church to encourage prayers for Martin and his family and Zimmerman and his family – “his life will never be the same either.”

He also said that he didn’t see a place in the church to foster interracial dialogues to deal with the vastly different understandings of the verdict by many whites and blacks.

It’s not as if there isn’t a logical opening for Catholic leaders to offer an opinion. Zimmerman, after all, is a former Catholic altar boy, according to news reports.

The official catechism of the church includes a section, 2263, on the right to self-defense. And individual bishops have not been reluctant in the past to speak out on questions of racial justice.

I did locate a parish priest who gingerly approached the topic: The Rev. Richard Voor serves at All Souls Catholic Church in Sanford, Florida, where the Trayvon Martin trial was held.

On Sunday, the day after the verdict, he focused his homily on the parable of the Good Samaritan.

It’s a story that turns racial profiling on its head, of course. The hero of the tale, the Samaritan, belonged to a group that was a persecuted minority 2,000 years ago.

For several minutes, Voor circled rhetorically around the elephant in the room, talking about compassion and mercy and unpacking the historical understanding of the story.

“If somebody does something to us we kind of react and react badly sometimes and then we react back. You know how that goes? It’s called the circle of violence,” he said. “It happens between families, it happens between countries, it happens between groups of people.”

Finally, Voor addressed directly the subject his parishioners were surely thinking about:

“I would suggest to you, especially what we’ve all been through in Sanford in the past 17 months, that what we need is compassion,” the priest said. “Because people are all invested in one way of looking at that whole situation or the other way…this has really affected everybody.”

The reason that Father Voor centered his homily on the parable of the Good Samaritan is because IT WAS THE GOSPEL READING LAST SUNDAY!!!  Every priest in the country preached on it – even mine, who gave one of the most enlightening talks on exactly who the Samaritans were and what it meant that Jesus even acknowledged their existence I’ve ever heard.  (To say that the Samaritans were treated like second class citizens is an understatement.)

That’s the way it is done in the Catholic Church.  Every Sunday, the homily is given based on the readings – one from the Old Testament, a Psalm, one from the Epistles and one Gospel story or parable.  All are laid out in the Lectionary and have been forever and a day.  We have a three year cycle of them.  It was a happy accident that Good Samaritan Sunday just so happened to be last weekend.  Any priest worth his salt would have had an outline of what he was going to say on paper days before the Zimmerman verdict was read.  That Father Voor even mentioned a court case is plain and simply because his people were directly effected.  Morality is discussed from the ambo, not politics and certainly not jury verdicts.  When morality and politics collide is when there is commentary from the hierarchy.  A jury trial doesn’t do that, generally.

This Sunday, the Gospel is about Mary and Martha.  We’ll be told to listen to God’s message before doing His work.  That’s just the way it is.

That any priest would say we must pray for both Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman and their families is natural.  If such a petition had been in the General Intercessions, no one would have complained, because in this case – unlike assisted suicide which is referenced above – no law was created or ruled on that offends  morality.  By the recorded account, George Zimmerman acted in self defense.  As Weiss indicates, that is morally acceptable.

Why should anyone have to comment on it?

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