Posts tagged: slavery

The Church Learns in History!

By , February 3, 2014 5:18 am

It has been nearly a year since Pope Francis got the attention of the entire world with his election as Bishop of Rome and Shepherd of the Universal Church. Beginning from the moment of his acceptance remarks he has unveiled an approach to living out the faith of Jesus which seems dramatically different from the face that the Church had been presenting to the world for the most part over recent decades. Does the face of the Church change? That is, of course, a figure of speech but arguments can be made that some of the difficulty blocking a rapid spread of the message of Jesus Christ is caused by the leaders in the Church, whether they be theologians, priests, nuns or bishops, who are harsh and rigid. That is a harsh statement. Can it be justified? Is raising the issue valid? I think that it is.

Church leaders have occasionally placed obstacles in the way of people who want to follow the simple loving message of Jesus of Nazareth. The leaders themselves are influenced not solely by Christ’s teachings but by the culture and customs in which these leaders have lived through in their own lives and have internally absorbed with the passage of years. Let me give you a few examples.

When I was a kid in the 1930’s it was perfectly justifiable for a pastor to refuse to bury a person who had committed suicide. Thankfully, that cruel policy was beginning to give way as pastors became more sensitive to the complexities of human psychology but the policy was still on the books and it could still happen. The same was true of a person who died in what the Church considered an invalid marriage. How sad. How sad. Not giving Christian burial to a deceased person who died under an ecclesiastical cloud did not hurt that person in any way but it generated tremendous pain for the family. Why did the Church have a policy that would inflict so much pain without any theological justification whatsoever? Simply put – it was the custom. It was the tradition. It was the way we did it!

Slavery! I am thrilled to note that many Catholic institutions are beginning to generate real concern and energy for the tragic issue of continued slavery in our society. My friends, even today it is widespread. While you are watching the evening TV news, some victims are being trafficked up and down IH-35. A splendid organization opposing human trafficking is called End Child Prostitution and Trafficking, ECPAT-USA, asserted that 1.2 million children are trafficked annually and hotels are the common spot for commercial sexual exploitation of children. It is wonderful to see an alliance of forty Roman Catholic institutions located in the New York metro area working together to help eliminate trafficking. Their work is headed by Dominican Sister Patricia Daily who is also Executive Director of the New Jersey based Tri-state Coalition for
Responsible Investment.

All of this is leading up to the tragic historical reality that there were many times in its history when the Church was not comfortable with slavery but chose to live with it. Once again, the culture, the tradition and the customs! It was the way we did it.

And then there is racism. The Church did commendable work in communities of the South long before 1964 with the first major piece of human rights legislation to be passed by the Johnson administration. The fact is, however, that the Church lived with it! We lived with a cruel and unjust system. Catholic schools were segregated, Catholic hospitals would not accept African-American patients and Catholic seminaries would not accept Black applicants. That was true of my own seminary in Houston in the 1950’s. Why? Because that was the system formed by the hateful culture of the Old South and, to a great extent, the whole nation. It was just the way we did it! May God forgive us!

There are terrible things out there, many are still going on, but I am proud of the fact that today the Church really is trying to utilize its Christian values more effectively and with greater energy than we have done in the past. Now our society is dealing with the issue of homosexuality which has long been at odds with the dominant custom and culture but we are beginning to see dramatic changes and adaptations in this area. More on that tomorrow.

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Yet Another Step Forward

By , January 9, 2014 1:14 am


I knew my paternal grandfather but not for long as he died in 1947. When he was born in 1859, the United States of America permitted three to four million human beings to live out their lives as slaves. That is about 155 years ago. Starting with the Civil War, our shamed nation has slowly plodded forward towards fulfillment of the ideals in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

1862 – the Emancipation Proclamation
1865 – the 13th Amendment
1940’s – Jackie Robinson breaks into baseball
Late 1940’s – Marion Sweatt, after having fought for his country, is denied admission to the University of Texas Law School
Early 1950’s – Black youths denied entrance into St. Mary’s Seminary, Houston
1954 – Supreme Court orders end to segregated schools but it doesn’t happen
1964 – The first major civil rights act followed by a half dozen others through the influence of Lyndon Johnson
2004 – Barack Obama elected President of the United States
2014 – Charlie Strong becomes head coach at the University of Texas

This may not mean a lot to many younger people today but any person of my age and who remembers “The Way We Were!” can appreciate this decision with thankfulness that slowly – slowly – slowly we are moving towards the ideals on which this country was founded. For that let us thank God.

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Oppressive Child Labor Declines

By , December 20, 2013 5:13 am

When we think of Christmas morning, we naturally think of the joyful experiences that most of the children in our country enjoy. They are so excited. They are so happy. Santa has been there and they see exciting gifts all around them.
I hate to throw cold water on our pleasant thoughts this special week, but for at least a few moments let’s think about the fact that the International Labor Organization, located in Geneva, has documentation showing that there are 168 million child laborers worldwide. This includes more than 80 million who are trapped in the worst forms of child labor – forced into slavery, trafficked into the sex industry, exploited in the drug trade, or working in dangerous mines and as farm laborers. The ILO estimates that more than 20,000 children are killed at work worldwide every year.

Because it is Christmas, I want to put this in a much more positive perspective. Because of international concern, there are almost 78 million fewer children in 2012 than there were in 2000. Concerned forces in Asia and the Pacific region have worked hard to bring about this decline in child labor among 5 to 17 year olds. Finally, the number of children in hazardous work has declined by more than half.

Thanks be to God. Let’s pray that before too many more Christmases have passed that this scourge on the human family will have been eliminated.

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A March Against Violence

By , August 28, 2013 5:31 am

Deep in our central cities, where most of our nation’s poor find themselves crowded, are often marked by fear and violence. Regretfully, it has been that way since the birth of the nation. There are endless stories about how groups of people first arrived in the United States as destitute immigrants and found themselves crowded into urban slums of our cities. The first chapters are always sad and difficult but within a generation or two these brave people were able to escape to a better life because of education and jobs. It was the living out of the American dream. This process is still going on but regretfully at a slower rate among both Hispanics and Blacks. As a nation we should work harder to make sure that the American dream is fulfilled for all of our citizens.

Black and Hispanics, crowded as they are into poverty areas, are the most frequent victims of crime in such areas. American whites, who have fled to suburbia, seem to instinctively fear minority people but they are not the ones who are suffering. It is those same minorities that endure the burden.

It is a shame that the Catholic Church has not grown as much as it could have in the Black community but it is there, it is strong and is highly organized. Last month in Chicago, there was a very meaningful march on behalf of peace and the elimination of violence in our central cities. It was led by the joint conference of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus, the National Black Sisters Conference, the National Black Seminarians Association and the National Association of Black Catholic Deacons. The event was closed by a prayer service with Francis Cardinal George of Chicago. That is really a wonderful thing that the highly organized Black Catholic community is stepping into this with a vengeance. May God continue to bless and guide them.

The Black Catholic community has a great deal to teach both their Catholic brothers and sisters but even the entire country. They have suffered terribly unbelievable suffering via slavery and it did not end in 1865. Oppression, humiliation and injustice continued legally until the mid-1960’s. Happily, there has been tremendous progress since the Johnson years but no one should let up. The United States is called to be an even greater country than it is today but that process will not be complete until we have eradicated the destructive selfishness of racism from our midst.

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Slavery’s Shadow Continues

By , January 15, 2013 4:54 am

Most Americans are aware of the fact that President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Then the Congress of the United States adopted the 13th Amendment in 1865. Almost one hundred years later, in 1964, the Congress of the United States adopted the first realistic and effective Civil Rights Act since the Civil War. In the next three or four years, several other important pieces of legislation were passed, such as Open Housing Act and Voter Rights Act. Our nation, founded on the principles of human freedom and dignity, nevertheless tolerated slavery for most of its first century as a Republic. It has been endeavoring to deal with this scandalous contradiction for more than 150 years. Regretfully, we are not there yet!
The January 5th issue of the New York Times tells us that, “In October, the Arkansas Times reported that Jim Hubbard, a Republican state representative, wrote in a 2009 self-published book that the institution of slavery, that the black race has long believed to be an abomination upon its people, has actually been a blessing in disguise.” His misguided point was that for all the horrors of slavery blacks were better off in America than in Africa.
Signs of slavery’s shadow can be found in many different directions. I have not read Michelle Alexander’s popular new book, The New Jim Crow, but she tells us that, “Today, there are more African American adults under correctional control, in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War. Finally, a poll about the Civil War found that Americans, when queried about the Civil War, had very different views. In the West, 11% were more sympathetic of the Confederacy than the Union, the Northeast was 14% and in the South THIRTY-EIGHT PERCENT tilted toward the Confederacy.
Shadow indeed.

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Slavery on IH-35

By , March 8, 2012 5:28 am

When people in Central Texas think of IH-35, they usually think of heavy traffic. Well, traffic certainly is heavy on this important freeway but the same freeway frequently carries human traffic. Girls, young males, nannies, maids, janitors, and waiters; these people are being forced to work against their will by cruel and unscrupulous human traffickers. I was thrilled to find that St. Edward’s University is doing what it can to help with this situation.

Kay Firth-Butterfield, a lawyer and Assistant Professor of Global Studies at St. Edward’s, is doing a remarkable job to make the larger society aware of the size and horror of this crime. David Silva, a St. Edward’s graduate and detective in the Sex Crimes Unit of the APD, remains committed to his advocacy to bring about greater awareness of human trafficking.

Last year, St. Edward students were exposed to the issue of human trafficking. Firth-Butterfield and Mity Myhr, the Associate Professor of History, facilitated eight human trafficking workshops for more than 800 students. The response was overwhelming. Many students are coming forward wanting to get involved to make a contribution to the solution.

Tragically, human trafficking is a global problem. We need to be aware that it is a problem in the United States, in Texas and in Austin. St. Edward’s is making a major contribution to sensitizing the rest of us to the issue and we must get the whole country involved so that this blight can be removed from our midst. Then we can begin to seriously help the rest of the world.

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We are NOT Through!

By , February 16, 2012 4:50 am

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A hundred years ago in the early part of the 20th century, there were a number of strong movements for social reform. Women were calling for the right to vote, workers were struggling for the legal right to join unions, efforts were made to equalize the educational output of the public schools, etc., etc. A dramatic battle going on at that time was a determined effort to eliminate child labor. Children as young as six and eight years old were working in factories for as much as 12 hours a day, receiving pay that was a mere pittance at best.

With the New Deal, Congress enacted the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishing a federal minimum wage, guaranteeing overtime pay and prohibition of child labor for children under 16 years of age. This law was to apply to all industries except one – AGRICULTURE. Today, eighty years later, the agony, injustice and cruelty of brutal child labor continues to go on in America’s industrial farms.

Thanks be to God for Public Citizen, an organization founded in 1971 by Ralph Nader. This fine group continues to lead a difficult struggle to eliminate the evil and shame of child labor in American life. Testifying before Congressional committees, Public Citizen has stated unequivocally that, “Child labor should be abolished but if it is to remain legal, it should be restricted to only the safest jobs and tasks. Permitting children under the age of 16 to work for below minimum wage pay, often for 12 or more continuous hours, in dangerous conditions, harks back to the early days of the Industrial Revolution when children worked in perilous factory jobs for slave wages, a chapter in American history most thought was long gone, but which is alive and well on industrial farms across the country.”

When you are eating your strawberries or holding a beautiful tomato in your hand, you may wonder if it had been picked by an 11-year-old boy who had already been working nine hours when he picked yours.

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