The Catholic order known as the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States pledged on Monday to raise $100 million for reparative disbursements to descendants of enslaved Black people once owned by Jesuits.
The announcement on Monday commits the well-known religious organization into the politics of reparation, a topic that has divided America for about 100 years. The amount will be overseen by the newly-created Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation that will oversee investments in education and other programs for those whose ancestors were exploited and sold by North American Jesuits.
In the course of time, the Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation will look to raise a billion dollars to continue the project. A billion dollars is what was requested by the descendants of the enslaved.
The Georgetown Memory Project, a non-profit descendant-tracing project affiliated with Georgetown University, says there are about 5,000 living descendants of those owned by Jesuits of the Catholic Church. The project itself began in acknowledgment of an 1838 sale of slaves made by Georgetown to Louisiana. Although all 272 slaves were thought to have died, the project found that thousands of them are alive today.
Role of Jesuits in slavery in America
Very few cultural institutions in America are untainted by the slavery of Africans and these institutions certainly do not include the Catholic Church. But the Church in America was very much the creation of its society as well as imagined according to the philosophy of the Catholic Church in Europe.
The first extensive shipment of enslaved Africans to the so-called New World in 1517 was requested by a Catholic bishop, Bartolomé de las Casas, a man who later defended the humanity of Native Americans against slavery. Much of the deliberations in the Catholic Church of old on slavery bordered on just versus unjust slavery. Strangely, most Jesuits in the Americas were defending the humanity of natives against slavery by the 17th century.
However, the kindness was not extended to African slaves so that when members of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin asked for manumission for Black slaves, they were excommunicated from the Church. In 1741, Pope Benedict XIV issued the first Catholic promulgation against enslaving natives of lands.
This promulgation, and not even a stronger one in 1839 by Gregory XVI, could stop American Catholic priests from engaging in the sale and use of slaves. Effectively, American bishops were denied the right to enslavement by the Civil War between northern and southern American states.
The Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States brings together seven provincial superiors in the two countries. This group of Jesuits is known to advance arguments in support of progressive ideals and social justice. The Conference has issued multiple statements in the past on racism, economic justice, environmental justice and immigration.
Speaking about their commitment to reparations, Father Tim Kesicki told ABC News: “Jesuits have always known our history of slaveholding, but it was not until 2016 that we met the descendants of Jesuit slaveholding and that completely changed our understanding of this historic sin,”