"I wrestle being part of a church that is sometimes unable to preach the justice it professes…"

"I wrestle being part of a church that is sometimes unable to preach the justice it professes…" June 10, 2011

That was part of the potent and challenging message of a Catholic priest and theologian who spoke at a recent conference for chaplains in Milwaukee.


To achieve a genuine sense of unity within the Catholic Church, parishioners throughout the country need to embrace diversity and put aside prejudices, according to Fr. Bryan Massingale.

An associate professor of theology at Marquette University and a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Fr. Massingale was one of four plenary speakers at the National Association of Catholic Chaplains’ 2011 conference, May 21 to 24 in downtown Milwaukee. Fr. Massingale rounded out the conference, speaking on the topic, “Pathways to Healing: Communities.”

Fr. Massingale said globalization has caused good and bad reactions within church. He called on attendees to reach out to people of all walks of life and ethnicities at their parishes, and to prayerfully remember those struggling in other corners of the world.

“In our church, globalization is a mixed blessing,” he said. “There’s more diversity, and yet we’re more divided. We’re a broken, divided world, nation and church.”

His talk, lasting more than an hour, was at times poignant and revealing. He confessed struggles about the current state of the church, but wrapped his message with a hopeful, faith-filled response to the chaplains.

As a person living a comfortable, middle-class lifestyle, Fr. Massingale said he is guilty at times of forgetting the plight of people trying to meet even their most basic of needs.

“I don’t have any difficulty eating, and all of my basic needs are met,” Fr. Massingale said. “It becomes all too easy to forget the rest of the world, and some of America, cannot live as well as I do.”

Fr. Massingale also confessed that, at times, he struggles with a deep sense of disappointment with the church.

“Why should I work to heal a community in which I feel so estranged? I wrestle being part of a church that sometimes is unable to proclaim or preach the justice it professes,” Fr. Massingale said to thunderous applause from the audience. “It is painfully obvious that people are sometimes welcome only with conditions.”

Throughout his time as a professor, Fr. Massingale said he has met with openly gay and lesbian students and has listened to their struggles.

“They see the church as more of an enemy than an ally,” Fr. Massingale said.

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13 responses to “"I wrestle being part of a church that is sometimes unable to preach the justice it professes…"”

  1. The condition that people are expected to meet is that they agree with the church’s teachings.

  2. The phrase “the church’s teachings” is very broad. All theologians know and acknowledge that there is a kind of hierarchy of teachings. The absolute central teaching is that Jesus died and rose again and is Lord. There are other solemnly defined truths, and there is the settled, constant teaching of the ordinary magisterium.

    But there are other teachings, such as the Just War doctrine, which are not so firmly established. Some may legitimately believe that war is such an evil that it can never be just. Others may believe that a particular Pope has enunciated it too stringently. For the most part these derivative teachings, which involve applying more basic teachings come in the area of moral theology. But there can also be teachings in the area of faith, such as the doctrine of Limbo, which are actually no more than common opinions, and subject to rejection by individuals.

    So to say that one must “accept the church’s teachings” is true only if one means those teachings which are not subject to dispute or revision, those teachings which are constant and unalterable.

  3. Father Massingale is the author of an important book, Racial Justice and the Catholic Church (Orbis, 2010), which details and critiques the ways in which American Catholics have responded to racism in our society. He is particularly critical of the failure of our leaders to listen attentively to the voices of those who have experienced racial injustice and to demonstrate solidarity wth them.

    Chapter 2, “An Analysis of Catholic Social Teaching on Racism,” is especially compelling. The “U.S. Catholic Church,” he writes there, “is a white church not only by numbers (though this is changing), but also in its cultural self-identity. This is the deepest reason for why it has failed to undertake the actions and changes needed to effectively challenge or fundamentally alter the marginalization of its members of color.” As we address the challenges of Hispanic immigration, American Catholics would do well to reflect on Massingale’s insights.

  4. Father Massingale – should get off his damn high horse. What is he doing, other than hating on his own Church and fellow Catholics? I’v never heard him say ANYTHING positive about the Catholic faith or his fellow Catholics. God knows we have enough people throwing dirt at our religion, we don’t need this idiot supplying them with rocks. If he thinks we should do more. Then he should lead by example, rather than writing books and making speeches full of empty words and negative criticism.

  5. “I’v never heard him say ANYTHING positive about the Catholic faith or his fellow Catholics.”

    Goodness, I have. In a number of contexts.

    And he does a lot of self-critique here too.

    That’s all I’m gonna say.

  6. “The “U.S. Catholic Church,” he writes there, “is a white church not only by numbers (though this is changing), but also in its cultural self-identity. ”

    All I know is if a white preacher went into a Baptist church and made the reverse complaint he would be called a RACIST. Massingale should try sitting in the pews for a change and see who really suports this Church. I’m proud of my heritage, and proud of my ancestors who have built and supported this Church. Massingale would be better off taking his racist attitude to Rev. Wrights Church. Seems like he’d fit right in.

  7. If his superiors don’t give him a good talking to, I suspect Fr. will last a few more years before he hits the road.

  8. The comments on this thread more than confirm Fr. Massingale’s observations. Very few black people belong to the Catholic Church, and the Hispanics have been defecting in droves to evangelical churches. Don’t wonder why. Just take umbrage whenever someone calls for a little self-criticism.

  9. Ray, I’ve heard him speak more than read what he wrote–and I’ve been struck by the charity he employs in his talks, and his willingness to talk seriously with people who disagree with him. In person, he has seemed very happily and joyfully Catholic to me. Much more so than many academics, I must say (as another academic).

    There was an interview with him published by US Catholic a number of years ago, that I think it captures this hopefulness well. Easy to find online.

    I don’t agree with everything he says, but I do think he is spot on that the treatment of the African-American community within the American Catholic Church is a shameful. If we can’t learn from history….

  10. First of all the term “white” or “white people” used to describe people of European ancestroy is every bit as RACIST and inaccurate as the term black. I would expect a man of the cloth to know better, especially if he is pointing the finger a t others. Second of all, I am not going to shout out AMEN and jiggle my ass, and shake a tamberine, to make him feel at home. The man is a racist and bigot. When he appologizes for his racist comments, I will consider listening to more of what he has to say, and I will adress him as Father.

    And I have nothing to be ashamed of. I am no more responsible for what Euro-Americans did centuries ago, than he is anytime an African American Male mugs or rapes somenone on a bus. I can only control what is happening today. I make every effort to improve my community and the world around me.

    The number one killer of African Americans today, is ABORTION. Perhaps MR. Massingale will consider taking that message to his community. Rather than acting like Rev Wright and blaming “whitey” for all their problems. There are enough preachers singing that tired old song.

  11. There is some geography one needs to appreciate when you are trying to understand what Fr. Massingale is saying. He is not saying that we have not done anything. . .

    –Four arch/dioceses stand at the top when considering percentage of African-American Roman Catholics than anywhere else in the country: Saint Louis; New Orleans; Charleston; and Washington DC.

    –Both Saint Louis and New Orleans integrated their Roman Catholic parish elementary schools long before any public school district here in the US was willing to do so.

    — I had met Archbishop Marino (of Atlanta) before he resigned in disgrace and I knew Bishop Jim Lyke (Cleveland and then Atlanta) on a first name basis. Both men were warmly received by their very diverse constituencies.

    What Fr. Massingale is saying to me is that as hard as we have tried, American Christianity on Sunday Morning is still mostly segregated. And I tend to agree. Part if that, however, is probably cultural. I have been trying to invite an African American Roman Catholic “Praise Choir” to my heavy German-American midwestern parish for years. No success yet.

  12. Hey Deacon Norb:

    You forget Bishop Joseph Lawson Howze who was the founding prelate of the RC Diocese of Biloxi Mississippi — the very first African American Ordinary of a diocese — and he was a convert as well!!!

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