Sunday, September 24, 2023

Bp. Perry retirement raises questions for USCCB racism committee

Heart Talk : Bishop Joseph Perry, Auxiliary Bishop, Archdiocese of Chicago  - YouTube

After Bishop Joseph Perry retired Tuesday as auxiliary bishop of Chicago, it remains unclear whether the bishop will remain chair of the U.S. bishops’ conference ad hoc committee on racism.

The bishop told The Pillar Thursday that he has requested clarity from USCCB president Archbishop Timothy Broglio on whether he will retain his post, in light of his retirement from ministry as an auxiliary bishop.

Bishop Perry told The Pillar that he himself had sent “a query out to the president on this,” and that Archbishop Broglio “is researching” the implications of his retirement from diocesan ministry for his committee position.

While USCCB statutes and bylaws prohibit an officer of the conference from serving beyond his 75th birthday, they do not explicitly state the requirements for continuing in office for the chairman of an ad hoc committee, who is appointed by the conference president, rather than elected by the conference membership.

Still, neither the bishop nor the USCCB have confirmed that Perry will remain chairman of the committee after his retirement, with the USCCB declining to respond to questions on the subject from The Pillar.

Perry was appointed to lead the ad hoc racisim committee in April. In the same month, the bishop turned 75, the age at which bishops customarily submit letters of resignation to Pope Francis.

The ad hoc committee on racism was created by the USCCB in 2017, amid rising white nationalist activity, including a rally in Charlottesville, Va., that turned deadly in August 2017. 

Since its creation six years ago, the committee has had three bishops at the helm. Bishop George Murry of Youngstown was initially appointed to chair the committee, but stepped down in 2018 while he battled leukemia.

Then-Bishop Shelton Fabre was next appointed to take over the committee, but, after four years, resigned in 2022, when he was appointed Archbishop of Louisville, Kentucky. 

The question of Perry’s continued service as ad hoc committee chair has reportedly become a subject of discussion among some bishops. Perry told The Pillar that “several other bishops” have raised questions about whether he is able to stay in post, in light of his retirement. 

If the bishop does step down, it would fall to Archbishop Broglio to appoint another bishop to assume a role for which there is no certain front-runner. 

While the committee has been customarily chaired by a Black bishop, with Perry’s retirement there are now only four active Black bishops in the U.S., according to journalist Nate Tinner-Williams.  

One of those bishops, Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, DC, is already over the age of 75.

The committee itself might soon be in a period of transition — a subject bishops are likely to discuss at their November meeting. 

USCCB policy allows for ad hoc committees to be created for a duration of three years, and renewed for additional three-year terms.

The ad hoc committee on racism was created in 2017, and renewed for an additional three-year period in 2020, making another renewal likely to come up on the ballot in November 2023.

But sources close to the USCCB have told The Pillar that ad hoc committees are customarily renewed only twice, meaning that bishops will eventually need to discuss the making the ad hoc group a permanent, standing committee, or some other possibility — including establishing it as a subcommittee, under the aegis of the USCCB committee on cultural diversity in the Church.

The work of the committee includes statements on current events and the creation of educational resources. In 2022, the committee published a guide for conducting a Holy Hour Against Racism.

The USCCB’s 2018 pastoral letter on racism is not attributed to the ad hoc committee, but the committee on cultural diversity in the Church.