“Racial Justice and the Catholic Church” book review
Catholic priest Father Bryan N. Massingale published “Racial Justice and the Catholic Church” in 2010. He has since made a name for himself as the premiere voice on racial justice in the Catholic Church. Twelve years after its publication, “Racial Justice and the Catholic Church” holds up to its original review from “Publishers Weekly” as prophetic.
Massingale’s work even predicts the overwhelming white backlash. I think we witnessed this backlash just more than a year ago in an insurrection against the U.S. Capitol. His most important contributions, though, are that racial justice needs to be an essential identifying mark of Catholic faith. He writes about the deep work that needs to be done to ensure Catholic spaces are truly catholic. And he explains why this matters for each of us — not just for Black Catholics.
Straight to the heart
With the thoroughness of an academic ethicist, Massingale defines his terms and goals. The assumption that he is writing an introductory text, though, does not take away from his willingness to drive straight to the heart — and the challenge — of the topic. “Racial Justice and the Catholic Church” neither endorses past (inadequate) efforts nor offers a wholesale repudiation of their tradition.
Massingale writes with an authenticity that comes from his ability to be a voice that offers much to the whole Church (People of God). He highlights “the valuable and essential contributions of the black experience — the experience of creating meaning and possibility in the midst of the crushing ordinariness of American racism — can make to Catholic faith and theology.”
This last point is critical: The perspectives of Black Catholic theologians matter not just to Black Catholics or to theologies around racial justice. They have so much to teach all of us about theology in all areas. Yet the practical challenge is that there are relatively few Black Catholic theologians (mostly because of systemic exclusion). Thus, as Massingale explores in the fifth chapter, too often Black Catholic theologians are invited almost exclusively to speak on issues of racial justice — ignoring their expertise on other areas of theology. We are all worse off for this.
Becoming genuinely universal
Massingale also emphasizes action. Statements from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, he points out, too often lack power because they never entered into catechesis. And because no resources were invested in creating offices to implement the charges.
“We cannot offer what we do not ourselves genuinely believe,” he says. “Too often, the Catholic faith community is ‘catholic’ in rhetoric and aspiration alone. Becoming genuinely ‘universal’ in our welcome will entail dying to the ‘empty promises’ of racial and social privilege” (Massingale 178).
So what practical things can we challenge ourselves to do? He gives us some ideas: Sing in another language. Pray in another idiom. Welcome darker faces into church leadership. Imagine new configurations and possibilities of being ‘Church’ that are not dependent on our racialized values and idolatrous identities.
There is so much more Massingale offers for conversation in “Racial Justice and the Catholic Church.” It is worth reading — and perhaps inviting others to join you in a book discussion. We might be able to start finding ways to engage in a truly universal faith tradition, embracing the Paschal Mystery that life comes after death — in this case, death to white supremacy.
Hear more from Father Bryan Massingale at NETWORK’s upcoming event, “White Supremacy and American Christianity” April 9 at 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time. Register for the event here.
(Originally published at networklobby.org.)