(September 2, 2020)

On August 31, 2020, conservative political commentator Michelle Malkin stormed Twitter with outrage over a Sunday Mass at the Jesuit-run Church of Saint Francis Xavier (“Xavier”) in New York City.

In the Mass, the congregation was invited to pray for racial equity and to agree to certain promises to promote racial justice in what Malkin described as a “revolting BLM prayer” while the sanctuary displayed photos of the murdered George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among others.

Malkin decried, “St. George Floyd replaces Jesus,” however based on the video she posted, there was no evidence of this replacement.

For many others who viewed the video in Malkin’s tweet, this news brought joy and hope.

Having a Catholic parish recognize the need to address racial injustice from a pastoral perspective, particularly regarding the tragic murders of Black persons, as well as the need to name white privilege and white supremacy and call for its dismantling is a welcome change for the Church in the US. 

Additionally, Xavier provided a model for how Catholic parishes can integrate prayer and pastoral care for racial justice within the liturgical context.

Given the US Catholic Church’s lackluster and divided response to the recent uptick in racial violence in the US, Xavier offers a beacon of hope to Catholics, many of whom have questioned their Church leadership. 

On June 19, 2020 nine members of Xavier’s choir initiated a letter to Cardinal Timothy Dolan petitioning him to take an unequivocal stance against racism – especially regarding institutional and systemic racism – and calling on him to develop a comprehensive plan “to address institutional white privilege in the Archdiocese going forward.”

This petition was in response to Dolan’s June 12th letter to the Archdiocese, which had only a token mention of George Floyd and the sin of racism, and did not even mention Floyd’s name until the latter part of the letter.

Sadly and unsurprisingly, Dolan offered no response to this petition.

As evident in the Sunday Mass at Xavier dedicated to racial justice and Black Lives Martyred, the parishioners’ zeal did not end with that petition. 

On the contrary, the congregation, in collaboration with the Jesuit pastoral staff, gave the world a grace-filled witness on how to respond within the context of the Catholic faith to the sin of racism.

Xavier’s witness is of particular importance given the recent police brutality toward Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin and the subsequent rogue murder and violence towards protestors by 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, especially given the US Church’s response to these tragic events in Kenosha.

Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee, Wisconsin issued a statement immediately following the police brutality with a prayer of “healing for Jacob Blake and for comfort for his family and loved ones.”

The archbishop then turned the focus on the city where the tragic event occurred, Kenosha, noting that the situation “remains volatile in the wake of the shooting” and that violence “can never be the means to attain peace and justice.”

A cursory reading of the archbishop’s statement might suggest that protestors would be the ones who might cause the violence he was imploring against, potentially even Black protestors.

However, it was not violence caused by protesters (let alone Black protestors) but violence toward peaceful protesters from a white male, Rittenhouse, and his use of an assault rifle.

The problem with Archbishop Listecki’s statement is the “peace” that he speaks of is founded on white privilege.

While the Archbishop is asking for peace to be upon the homes, the streets and the local businesses of Kenosha, the truth is Black people are not safe in their own homes, on the street, or in local businesses.

And sadly and ironically, a white male caused the subsequent violence and walked the streets of Kenosha as if he had immunity due to his white privilege.

The tragedies in Kenosha, juxtaposed with the Archbishop of Milwaukee’s response, further highlight the importance of Xavier’s anti-racism efforts among the congregation as well as expressed in the liturgy.

In response to Kenosha and in support of the local archbishop, on August 27, 2020, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a statement reiterating the commitment to peacefully seeking racial justice and calling on the faithful to observe a day of prayer and fasting the following date, which marked the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington and the delivery of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech.”

Peacefully seeking justice along with prayer and fasting, while all being noble practices, offer little practicality in terms of becoming anti-racist and combatting racial injustice.

One could read into the USCCB’s statement a call to avoid marches and rallies and to show no solidarity with Black persons in this manner.

Rather, it would appear the US bishops were calling the faithful to stay home and shut down the pain, anger, confusion, distress and sadness that the sin of racism enacts, and deal with these effects only by praying and fasting. 

Moreover, the USCCB never directly condemned the violence caused by Rittenhouse (they only condemned general “violence”), nor did the bishops deplore the white supremacy that influenced Rittenhouse’s murderous spree.

Without naming the white supremacy and the white privilege as evil and inequitable causes, the USCCB also failed to call for the dismantling of these sins of racism and is therefore complicit in the propagation of white privilege and white supremacy.

On the other hand, the Mass at Xavier offers the faithful a path to healing these emotions by naming them amid a collective body and uniting this body, along with the murdered bodies of Black persons, with the Body and Blood of Christ to be received on the altar.

Ms. Malkin was wrong, Jesus was very much at the center of Xavier’s Mass for Racial Justice.

Why was Malkin’s Twitter response so visceral?  One might argue that she might believe the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, among many others, do not matter, and therefore ought not to be included in the Liturgy, or probably in any public manner.

One might also argue that Black lives do not matter to Ms. Malkin. 

Therefore, she might have inequitable beliefs toward Black people, and the very mention of any significance of value ascribed to Black lives generates in her such a reaction.

The very mention of a call to racial justice triggered Malkin’s outrage, which unveiled her inherently racist views toward Black people.

On the other hand, inequitable beliefs such as the aforementioned demonstrate the importance of the racial justice work the Xavier community is engaging in.

Turning back to the US bishops, it is shameful and embarrassing that they cannot move beyond the modus operandi of prayer and fasting when it comes to racial injustice.

Moreover, it is troubling that they cannot name white supremacy as a factor influencing Rittenhouse’s violence and how Rittenhouse’s white privilege allowed him to walk freely in the streets of Kenosha without being shot by police like the unarmed Jacob Blake, let alone stopped by law enforcement.

The USCCB’s inability to call these evils out signifies its complicity with white privilege and white supremacy.

This is further substantiated in the USCCB’s fragility-based outrage over being called out for the white Power faction in the Church, which resulted in the USCCB’s attempt to shut down the article that exposed this.

The tone-deaf and complicit USCCB represents why the Xavier community and Catholics across the US are calling on the Church for a more concrete, definitive, comprehensive and unambiguous plan for anti-racism and the promotion of racial justice.

The Laity are fatigued by their bishops’ anachronistic and superficial responses to racism and are taking upon themselves the much-needed anti-racism work in the US Church. 

Given the Laity’s response to the Spirit’s call to racial healing and equity, it is time for the USCCB to listen to and learn from the Laity. 

May every Catholic parish in the US and throughout the world follow in Xavier’s example of supporting racial justice and racial equity for each and every person, particularly in the promotion that Black Lives Matter.

More by Matt Kappadakunnel on the fight for racial justice:

Feeling racial injustice fatigue? Here’s why – and how – to keep fighting

Black Lives Martyred: Trayvon, Ahmaud, Breonna, George… pray for us

Black Lives Matter to St. Ignatius of Loyola… and to God: a spirituality of anti-racism

Amid controversy at Sojourners, on racism it’s the US Conference of Censoring, Cowardly Bishops

USA: A house of divided bishops cannot stand against racism


Matt Kappadakunnel has a background in investment management and investment banking. Additionally, Matt spent multiple years studying to be a Catholic priest. He is a graduate of Creighton University and is a CFA Charterholder. Matt lives in Los Angeles with his wife and toddler, and they are expecting a newborn in November.