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A Catholic order has pledged to raise $100 million for the descendants of slaves it once owned and to promote other racial reconciliation programs.
The Society of Jesus, a Roman Catholic order commonly known as the Jesuits, in partnership with the GU272 Descendants Association, has launched the Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation to raise money in part for reparations for the descendants of slaves the order once bought and sold. The initiative was first reported by The New York Times.
GU272 Descendants Association is a Jesuit affiliate “dedicated to preserving the memory, commemorating the lives and restoring the honor of the 272 enslaved people sold by the Jesuits of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus in 1838,” according to its website.
The Jesuits and GU272 Descendants Association announced the partnership in a statement on Monday.
“From our inception, the GU272 Descendants Association has chosen to identify and rebuild our ancestors’ families that were separated and often destroyed by the brutal institution of slavery and to create a sustainable mechanism for investing forward in uplifting Descendants for many generations to come,” GU272 Descendants Association President Cheryllyn Branche said in a statement. “Through the Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation, we will restore honor and dignity to our ancestors by institutionalizing these goals for our children, our children’s children, and Descendants for centuries to come.”
Fr. Tim Kesicki, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, added: “Our shameful history of Jesuit slaveholding in the United States has been taken off the dusty shelf, and it can never be put back. Racism will endure in America if we continue to turn our heads away from the truth of the past and how it affects us all today. The lasting effects of slavery call each of us to do the work of truth and reconciliation. Without this joining of hearts and hands in true unity, the cycle of hatred and inequality in America will never end.”
Kesicki said that the fund has already raised $15 million for the initiative. The Jesuits plan to raise the rest over the next three to five years. After the $100 million benchmark is hit, the Catholic order intends to continue raising funds until it hits a goal of $1 billion requested by leaders of the descendants of slaves, according to the Times.
“I am privileged to have been part of the dialogue process that led to the creation of the Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation. The Gospel calls us to confess the sin of Jesuit slaveholding and to work for racial justice,” Kesicki said in a tweet.
Reparations as public policy has gained traction in Washington, D.C., in recent months following widespread protests and riots last summer over the death of George Floyd. President Joe Biden is reportedly considering acting soon to give reparations to black Americans as well as providing taxpayer-funded tuition to attendees of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
The idea was also bantered about during the Trump administration. The House held largely symbolic hearings on reparations in 2019. At one hearing, Quillette columnist Coleman Hughes argued that reparations would not address the real needs of black Americans.
“In 2008, the House of Representatives formally apologized for slavery and Jim Crow,” Hughes said. “In 2009, the Senate did the same. Black people don’t need another apology. We need safer neighborhoods and better schools. We need a less punitive criminal justice system. We need affordable health care. And none of these things can be achieved through reparations for slavery. … If we were to pay reparations today, we would only divide the country further, making it harder to build the political coalitions required to solve the problems facing black people today; we would insult many black Americans by putting a price on the suffering of their ancestors; and we would turn the relationship between black Americans and white Americans from a coalition into a transaction — from a union between citizens into a lawsuit between plaintiffs and defendants.”