Mar 15, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Catholic order commits to making $100 million in slavery reparations

Descendant Leaders, Jesuits and Georgetown Representative at the Ancestors graves, Immaculate Heart of Mary Cemetery.

Descendant leaders, Jesuits and Georgetown University representative at the ancestors' graves, Immaculate Heart of Mary Cemetery in Louisiana. Photo: Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States

Jesuit priests pledged Monday to raise $100 million for the descendants of people enslaved by the Catholic order as part of a new racial reconciliation initiative in the U.S., the New York Times first reported.

Why it matters: It's one of the biggest moves by an institution to atone for slavery, and "the largest effort by the Roman Catholic Church to make amends for the buying, selling and enslavement of Black people," church officials and historians told the NYT.

Driving the news: Protests over systemic racism in the past year have pushed lawmakers and companies to make or consider making reparations for slavery.

Details: In a "first-of-its-kind partnership" among descendants of both the enslaved and enslavers, the Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation was created by the GU272 Descendants Association and the Jesuits "in the pursuit of racial healing and justice," per a statement from the Catholic order.

  • The foundation is "rooted in the events of 1838, when 272 enslaved men, women and children were sold by the Jesuit owners of Georgetown University to plantation owners in Louisiana," according to the statement.
  • A New Orleans bank later acquired by JPMorgan Chase used these enslaved people as collateral. JPMorgan will be a co-trustee and provide services including planning and advice.

What to expect: The group aims to support educational aspirations of descendants for future generations and actively enage, promote and support programs and activities that "highlight truth, accelerate racial healing and reconciliation, and advance racial justice and equality in America," per the statement.

  • "The Foundation aims to develop a full understanding of, and reconciliation with, the numerous institutions of higher education and other entities that profited from slavery," the statement added.

Of note: The pledge is much less than the $1 billion called for by descendant leaders to the Catholic order.

  • But the Rev. Timothy P. Kesicki, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, and Joseph Stewart, the foundation's acting president, told the Times this remains the long-term goal.

Go deeper: Biden adviser Cedric Richmond sees first-term progress on reparations

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