Bishop Joseph Perry Delivers Holiness and Prejudice: The Black Catholic Legacy Address

Jack Birle Staff Writer

On Wednesday, Feb. 5, Bishop Joseph N. Perry delivered a lecture on the relationship between the struggle of African-Americans and Catholicism.

Perry’s lecture, entitled “Holiness and Prejudice: The Black Catholic Legacy,” discussed the many parallels between the struggle of Christians and Jews in history and the struggle of African-Americans throughout history.

The speech was given in celebration of Black History Month and had the goal of providing an understanding between the suffering of Blacks and other people of color and the role of the Catholic church. 

“Suffering and mistreatment is what [African-Americans] and God have in common,” Perry said.

The way Christians suffered in biblical times and the way African-Americans suffered, specifically during slavery, were strikingly similar according to Perry.

Perry also discussed how the remorse both Christians and African Americans have toward God and explained how the faith in God between both groups is also shared. 

“Given the ability to, we would sue God…we sue for everything else,” Perry said.

Bishop Perry further talked about the anger and negative feelings both groups have when faced with hardships, such as Good Friday for Christians. The struggle to comprehend is something he believes is shared between both groups.

“Since [Good Friday] we have learned that anger and vengeance will not save,” Perry said.

Later in the lecture, Perry talked about the Catholic Church’s direct role in the struggle of African-Americans and other peoples of color. Perry discussed how the Church shut out Black people while also selling them into slave labor for no pay and no compensation.

By 1860, most slaves in the United States came from places where Catholicism was the ruling law. The Catholics at the time used superiority to assert their actions for putting Blacks and other peoples of color into slavery.

“Racism in all of its form diminishes the church,” Perry said. “African Americans have a complicated history with Catholicism.”

Perry argued that the inconsistent history with the Catholic Church has caused a strained relationship with Black people and people of color. He also added that the story of Blacks and the Catholic Church echos the story of other ethnic groups relationships with the catholic church.

Perry pointed to the candidates for sainthood, such as Pierre Toussaint a former slave from New York, as a change in the Catholic Church. He believes this shows progression of Blacks and their story in the Catholic Church. Racism is now being addressed head on in the Catholic Church, according to Perry.

“The protracted black saga reminds us that there is a deep wound in this country for which the blood of Jesus Christ still flows,” Perry said.

Joseph Perry is a bishop for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago and has served in that role since 1998. 

The event was sponsored by the University’s Mission and Ministry and Africana Studies. The University has several other events planned this month to commemorate Black History Month.