Catholic Response to Tension During the Civil Rights Era

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  – Galatians 3:28

Although church teachings clearly opposed racial discrimination, the racism of white parishioners in the American South prevented the Catholic Church from taking a strong stance against segregation during the Jim Crow Era.  While the State of Alabama demanded strict segregation, the Catholic Church welcomed both white Americans and African Americans to religious services.  Still, African American parishioners received communion last and sat in the back of the church.  Even though the Archdiocese of Mobile  allowed internal desegregation, Archbishop Thomas J. Toolen forbade priests for speaking out publicly against segregation.  Many priests, like Albert Foley, S.J., worked for desegregation in various ways.  By refusing to condemn civil rights activism, priests encouraged African Americans to continue their work for change.  Finally in 1958, the Catholic Church publically declared that segregation was inconsistent with Catholic values.  Slowly but surely after that declaration, segregation became an element of the past.  Learn more about the Catholic Church during the Civil Rights Era here!

Even though the word “catholic” means universal, there have been tensions within the Catholic Church since its origin.  Today’s dividing issues include family planning, the ordination of women, and so much more.  Catholic social teaching is constantly evolving as it attempts to uphold God’s commands and change with the times.  Changes may be gradual, but we owe all of the Church’s progress to those with the determination to work for change.  The church’s responses to tensions propel the church forward.

“Never underestimate the power of a small group of people to change the world.  In fact, it is the only way it ever has.”  - Margaret Mead

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