St. Philip the Apostle Catholic Church
Mother's Day, 1965
Father Phillip Berryman
This morning I would like to speak plainly on a subject that needs plain
speech. One of the things that prompts me is an article in this week's Look
Magazine. It is called "Our Churches' Sin Against the Negro" by Robert W. Spike,
chairman of the Commission on Religion and Race of the National Council of
Churches. Mr. Spike delivers a strong indictment in his opening
"The Christian Churches have not influenced their adherents to practice
racial justice in housing, education, job opportunity and public accommodations.
Though preaching equality of all men before God, the churches hare held the
accomplishment of this objective to be a long-time program to be achieved
None of us, clergy or lay, likes being told what is wrong with us.
It's like the "Peanuts" cartoon: Lucy says to Charlie Brown, "You know what the
whole trouble with you is, Charlie Brown?" "No, and I don't want to knowI Leave
me aloneI" So Charlie Brown walks away. Lucy shouts after him, "The whole
trouble with you is you won't listen to what the whole trouble with you
Lest we be Charlie Browns, let us spend a few moments on this
The fact is that we live in a segregated and discriminatory society,
nationally and locally. You night be interested to know that by the 1960 census
in all the communities surrounding Pasadena -- stretching from Burbank to
Arcadia and going as far south as Montebello and El Monte -- there were only 382
Negroes out of a total population of 454,147. Pasadena-Altadena is the only
pocket that allows Negroes to move in from this whole vast area. It is 1/5
non-white but as the census tables clearly show, it is segregated. This is just
one example of the pattern -- which, by the way, is more effectively segregatory
now than in 1950. It may further interest you to know that only 2% of new
housing in our state is open to Negroes.
Needless to say there are the related factors of job and school
segregation. The ordinary Negro family in our country bears the marks of a past
oppression and a present vicious circle. We could go on with statistics but that
is not my place. Suffice it to say that segregation is a fact.
It seems to me that the great majority of us are neither actively
fighting to maintain the status quo nor working to change it. We're
non-involved, unconcerned. But this disturbs me. For there really is no neutral
ground. To support the status quo is to support an immoral situation.
In 1958 the U.S. bishops made a statement. They said that certainly
there are many issues involved: legal, historical, cultural, economic, social.
But they said it is time to cut through the less essential issues and come to
the heart of the problem. "The heart of the race question," they declared, "is
moral and religious." They said that discrimination on grounds of race "cannot
be reconciled with the truth that God created all men with equal rights and
equal dignity." It imposes a stigma of inferiority upon the segregated people --
a judgment that cannot be reconciled with the Christian view of human dignity.
It leads to oppressive conditions and the denial of basic rights. It is a
practical denial of human brotherhood in Christ. Finally, if we believe
Jesus when He says "Whatever you do to one of these the least of my
brothers, you do to Me" -- then it follows that we have erected barriers against
Christ Himself. The man we discriminate against is Christ.
What does this have to do with the Mass? Plenty. If we piously offer
the sacrificial meal meant to unite men -- and yet exclude a race from our
lives, it is a sham. "If when you are bringing your gift to the altar, you
suddenly remember that your brother has a grievance against you, leave your gift
where it is before the altar. First go and make your peace with your
brother, and only then come back and offer your gift."
The article in Look points out that for too long we have been satisfied
with a few words about brotherhood that don't put the bite on our consciences.
We say "These things have to change gradually." Let me again quote our bishops:
"We may well deplore a gradualism that is merely a cloak for inaction."
Let me point out another curious situation. Currently there is a Negro
freedom movement. But the paradoxical thing is that neither whites nor Negroes
are free. You are not really free to enter an honest friendship with a Negro.
You high school students -- don't you have to admit that there is real social
pressure prohibiting real friendships to form? I have had parishioners tell me
that they would be afraid to have Negro visitors in their homes when neighbors
would get to know. Is this freedom? Maybe in theory but not in fact. No one will
be really free until all are free.
There are signs of hope. First the Negro Freedom Movement itself.
Anyone who has had contact with it knows that at its heart is real Christian
love -- as exemplified by Dr. Martin Luther King. And there is the church's
involvement. In the same magazine were pictures of Sr. Mary Leoline, whom
several of our own sisters know personally from having lived with her. I think
the picture of her singing freedom songs with the clergy on the Montgomery march
is a symbol of an awakening. But the real test lies ahead.
What does the gospel demand at this point? Certainly it varies
according to your own situation. I know that many of you have your own problems
that would prevent you taking an active role. I am not going to offer a recipe.
I make five suggestions:
1. Endorse the Negro freedom movement in your
own heart and conscience. You may not agree with every action -- but you should
be with the movement.
2. Pray for freedom. We pray
for victims of communist oppression -- and rightly so. Should we not pray also
for victims of our own indifference?
3. Check your
own attitudes. Do you think in stereotypes and categories -- instead of people?
Do you pre-judge minority peoples to be lazy, shiftless, dirty, immoral,
violent -- without ever knowing any
4. Don't be afraid to take a stand. The
archbishop of Atlanta recently said the following: "non-violent protest is a
virtue, and demonstrations of this kind are Christian acts of charity." If he
can say this about direct action, none should be afraid to take a stand among
friends and acquaintances. How do you think Christ views our silence? "The only
thing needed for the triumph of evil is the silence of good
5. Consider the possibility that God might want
you to work actively with a responsible group for the elimination of
We live in a segregated society. God is not pleased. We should not be
complacent but should do what we can to work for a true human family. Let us
humbly acknowledge our failures and pray together during the Eucharist for the
grace of an enlightened conscience and courageous conviction.
The pastor of St. Philip's parish directed Father
Berryman not to speak at the rest of the Sunday Masses. On Tuesday Cardinal
McIntyre ordered him transferred to Notre Dame Academy on the west side of Los
Angeles. Father Berryman moved on Wednesday. Auxiliary bishop Timothy Manning
told the Pasadena Star News "We had twenty-five or so routine transfers this
week" and it was an "ordinary part of the administration of this archdiocese."