Bishops Slam Racism in SA's Catholic Church

LACK of trust of black clergy, especially those in leadership positions, continues to exist in SA's Roman Catholic church congregations, says a new report by a church justice and peace committee on race relations.

A decade after the transition from apartheid, the church's survey has urged its leadership not only in SA, but also within the Southern African Development Community, to actively address racism among members of the congregation.

The Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference received the report this week from its Justice and Peace Department, saying race relations within its membership left much to be desired.

The report found that black clergy in predominantly white parishes faced enormous pressure to prove their competence.

It said improvement in race relations within the church was slow, and that there was little space for different communities to debate their experiences of racism.

The 31-page report, compiled over the past two years, recorded members' sentiments following a survey among church communities throughout SA.

Justice and Peace Department chairman Bishop Mlungisi Dlungwane said while the Catholic church had always maintained a doctrinal opposition to any form of racial discrimination, in practice the church reflected the segregation of society at large.

"We now face the challenge that racial division will be institutionalised in postapartheid SA , not only in the local and national social and economic structures, but also in the religious practice of South Africans," he said.

He said the church still needed to work hard to rid society of "the cultural and economic spheres" of racial division.

The report said a eurocentric culture was still considered normal and was the basis for the evaluation of credibility in some churches.

The practice continued to serve as a basis of evaluation of what was credible and acceptable.

The report said an apartheid structural and organisational legacy remained a feature of some church structures.

For real social reconciliation and the development of nonracialism to occur, all communities will have to move beyond social "comfort zones".

They will have to strive to end "the socialised, internalised, and often unconscious" feelings of white superiority and black inferiority.

According to the conference's democracy and reconciliation programme co-ordinator, Zukile Tom, the issues were picked up from several seminars dealing with racial prejudice, racial discrimination, racism, race in relation to socioeconomic development and xenophobia among Catholics.

He said seminars also looked into the need for adjustments to be made to parish geographical boundaries modelled on apartheid group areas.