The thrust of the letter, titled "What We Have Seen and Heard," was evangelization, Steib told the Sept. 12 gathering in Philadelphia:
"The Catholic Church is universal, there is room in the sanctuary for everybody, and it is our responsibility to work within our community and lead others to our faith which we believe in," he said. "That's what evangelization is all about."Steib also had some interesting, even provocative, things to say about race matters in the church and the nation, as well as about President Barack Obama.
The bishops felt "the time had indeed come to share with the church, in our own language, the experience, the history, the insights, the understanding of the past," he said ... . "We decided it was time to shape the hopes for the future."
The relative dearth of black Catholic leadership in the church at the time the pastoral was released was due to "subtle racism," Bishop Steib charged in his remarks at the symposium.
Some racism still exists, he said, and cited the furor in Catholic circles in May over the honorary degree awarded by the University of Notre Dame to Obama, who supports legal abortion. The president also was the commencement speaker at the Indiana university.
Critics of Obama, who included about 70 bishops, said it was Obama's stand on abortion that made him an inappropriate choice to receive an honorary degree and/or be the commencement speaker at a Catholic university.
At the symposium, Bishop Steib said other presidents have had disagreements with the positions of the Catholic Church, for example, on war policies and capital punishment, but have received honorary degrees without similar objection.
It is the subtle racism that still exists which contributes to the lack of priestly vocations among young black men because "it leads to a mistrust of the church among young black men and women," he said. "Let's acknowledge that."
Steib also put in a word for the Memphis diocese's Jubilee Schools, inner-city Catholic schools that were reopened after decades to serve a mostly poor, black and non-Catholic population. He said education was a powerful tool for the evangelization the black bishops urged 25 years ago:
"Our mission, because of our baptism, is to teach our children the good news about Jesus Christ. What better way to go about it than through the Jubilee Schools?" he said. "We don't maintain the Jubilee Schools because the children are Catholic; we maintain the Jubilee Schools because we are Catholic."UPDATE: In response to a commenter who had concerns about this post, I did a little more digging and found another blog post that had similar questions about whether the original source correctly quoted Bishop Steib.
The blogger, Daniel Burke from Religion News Service, contacted Steib's office in Memphis for clarification. While waiting for a copy of the remarks, he also contacted the writer I linked to -- Lou Baldwin, a Catholic freelance writer whose piece was picked up for syndication by Catholic News Service. Baldwin provided Burke with a transcription of Steib's remarks, which I will copy in part below (these are Bishop Steib's actual words as transcribed by a reporter present for the address):
"I ... know there is a subtle racism that still exists within our Church that leads to a mistrust of the Church among our young African American men and women. (snip)Slowly we are moving away from that mistrust to trust in our Church and thereby trust in the Universal Church. You may ask, "What do you mean by subtle racism? Well, recently and particularly because of the awarding of a degree to President Obama at the University of Notre Dame, the question racism among the bishops of the country has been raised. I am only raising it because Archbishop Quinn in an article in the America Magazine said that continuing confrontation with President Obama and his administration sends the message that the bishops are insensitive to the heritage and continued existence of racism in America. Archbishop Quinn said that.
Please check out the rest of the remarks in the RNS post, as well as the comments there. Steib clearly pushed a few buttons.
UPDATE: Opinionated Catholic comments on how Catholic leadership's criticism of Democratic politicians is now amplified due to the power of the Internet.
Rocco Palmo, the "Church whisperer" who has served as a church analyst for media like the BBC, NPR and The New York Times, also remarks on Steib's speech. His blog post is structured similarly to mine, which might help blunt criticism that my original post was the "sloppy" work of a "young" journalist (I have been in this business for 13 years, after all).