In the aftermath of a chaos- and hate-filled weekend in Virginia, Catholic bishops and groups throughout the nation called for peace after three people died and several others were injured following clashes between pacifists, protesters and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 11 and 12.
A 32-year-old paralegal, Heather D. Heyer, was killed when a car plowed into a group in Charlottesville Aug. 12. The driver was identified as James Alex Fields, who allegedly told his mother he was attending a rally for President Donald Trump. Reports say the car allegedly driven by Fields plowed into a crowd during a white nationalist rally and a counter-rally the afternoon of Aug. 12.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said early Aug. 14 the “evil attack” meets the legal definition of domestic terrorism and suggested pending federal charges for Fields, who was arrested and was being held without bail. Fields was formally charged Aug. 14 by a Charlottesville judge with second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and failure to stop in an accident that resulted in death.
Outside the Charlottesville courthouse where Judge Robert Downer handed down the charges and Fields appeared via video link from jail, white supremacists and counter-protesters clashed, but there were no arrests. The same day, anti-racism rallies were held in several cities.
Cardinal Dolan was a signatory in a statement issued by the executive committee of the Commission of Religious Leaders (CORL) in Manhattan.
The statement said that although the religious leaders represent different faith traditions, they stand firmly on the same side in their condemnation of hatred. “We will not be silent while neo-Nazis, white supremacists, or any individuals or groups, seek to divide us from one another….
“We, who have felt the pain of prejudice in our respective histories, must not permit other groups to be victimized. All people of conscience must unite to do that which is morally right.”
They offered prayers of comfort to the victims and their families “who hurt so deeply during this time. May we all see the blessing of peace that we want and need in our land.”
The other signatories were Rev. Dr. A. R. Bernard Sr., Rabbi Joseph Potasnik and Rev. Dr. Jimmy Lim.
The bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, Va., was one of the first to call for peace following the violence in Charlottesville late Aug. 11, which only became worse the following day.
On the evening of Aug. 11, the Associated Press and other news outlets reported a rally of hundreds of men and women, identified as white nationalists, carrying lit torches on the campus of the University of Virginia. Counter-protesters also were present during the rally and clashes were reported.
The following day, at least 20 were injured and the mayor of Charlottesville confirmed Ms. Heyer’s death later that afternoon via Twitter after the car allegedly driven by Fields rammed into the crowd of marchers. Two Virginia State Police troopers also died when a helicopter they were in crashed while trying to help with the violent events on the ground. CNN reported that 19 others were injured and remained hospitalized Aug. 14 but were listed in good condition.
“In the last 24 hours, hatred and violence have been on display in the city of Charlottesville,” said Richmond Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo in a statement on the afternoon of Aug. 12. “I earnestly pray for peace.”
Charlottesville is in Bishop DiLorenzo’s diocese.
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called the events “abhorrent acts of hatred” in an Aug. 12 statement. He said they were an “attack on the unity of our nation.”
Virginia’s governor declared a state of emergency Aug. 12 when violence erupted during the “Unite the Right” white nationalist protest against the removal of a statue of a Confederate general, Gen. Robert E. Lee. But the trouble already had started the night before with the lit torches and chants of anti-Semitic slogans.
“Racism is evil,” President Trump said in an Aug. 14 statement. “And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans...As I said on Saturday (Aug. 12), we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence. It has no place in America.”
Trump was criticized by many across the country for his Aug. 12 statement, because he condemned hatred, bigotry and violence “on many sides” in Charlottesville and did not specifically target white supremacists then, his critics said.
Other groups, including many faith groups, seeking to counter the white nationalist events showed up during both events. Authorities reported clashes at both instances.
“Only the light of Christ can quench the torches of hatred and violence. Let us pray for peace,” said Bishop DiLorenzo in his statement. “I pray that those men and women on both sides can talk and seek solutions to their differences respectfully.”
Chicago’s Cardinal Blase J. Cupich said Aug. 12 via Twitter: “When it comes to racism, there is only one side: to stand against it.”
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia called racism the “poison of the soul,” and said in a statement that it was the United States’ “original sin” and one that “never fully healed.”
He added that, “blending it with the Nazi salute, the relic of a regime that murdered millions, compounds the obscenity.”
Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark said the Catholic men, women and children of the archdiocese of Newark, N.J., “people who trace their roots to every continent of the world and represent every race and ethnicity” viewed with horror the events in Charlottesville and condemned “the racism and vicious rhetoric that contributed to this tragic moment in our nation’s history.”
“Hatred & vile racist actions defile the USA. Such activity is NEVER justified. Those who planned these acts must be denounced & defied,” said Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory in a tweet.—CNS
CNY contributed to this article.