Pope sends strong message to U.S. Catholics after Floyd death

Pope Francis called George Floyd by name, twice, and offered support to an American bishop who knelt in prayer during a Black Lives Matter protest.

Cardinals black and white have spoken out about Floyd's death, and the Vatican’s communications juggernaut has shifted into overdrive to draw attention to the cause he now represents.

Under normal circumstances, Floyd’s killing at the hands of a white police officer and the global protests denouncing racism and police brutality might have drawn a muted diplomatic response from the Holy See. But in a U.S. election year, the intensity and consistency of the Vatican’s reaction suggests that, from the pope on down, it is seeking to encourage anti-racism protesters while making a clear statement about where American Catholics should stand ahead of President Donald Trump's bid for a second term in November.

Francis “wants to send a very clear message to these conservative Catholics here who are pro-Trumpers that, ‘Listen, this is just as much of an issue as abortion is,’” said Anthea Butler, a presidential visiting fellow at Yale Divinity School.

Butler, who is African American, said the Vatican is telling Catholics “to pay attention to the racism that is happening and the racism that is in your own church in America.”

The Vatican has long spoken out about racial injustice, and popes dating to Paul VI have voiced support for the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of nonviolent protest. History’s first pope from the global south is no different. He quoted King at length during his historic speech to the U.S. Congress in 2015 and met with King’s daughter, as his predecessor had done.

But the degree to which Francis and the Vatican have seized on Floyd's killing is unusual and suggests a coordinated messaging strategy aimed at a national church that Francis has long criticized for its political and ideological partisanship, said Alberto Melloni, a church historian and secretary of the John XXIII Foundation for Religious Studies in Bologna, Italy.
.AP

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