Pastoral plan calls for renewed action to combat racism, sex abuse

September 22, 2020

HOUSTON — Gloria Aldridge is no stranger to being at the wrong end of racism and prejudice. The retired attorney, who is African American, has suffered indignities and slights great and small throughout her life.

She grew up attending Holy Cross Church in Austin, a church her mother helped get off the ground as an alternative to attending a segregated church.

As a high school student, Aldridge said she wasn’t allowed to attend a Daughters of the Confederac-sponsored dance because of her color. At law school, Aldridge was questioned whether she belonged in the law journal office.

“It’s something you live with, and it doesn’t go away — these memories are there, and my church was not willing to see me as God sees me,” Aldridge said.

Lately though, Aldridge has been encouraged by the steps the Church is taking to address systemic racism and its openness to new initiatives. A member of St. Ignatius of Loyola Catholic Church in Spring, Aldridge has been participating in its community conversations about race, started last October and born out of “Open Wide Our Hearts,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 2018 pastoral letter against racism.

It was in this climate that Aldridge brought the idea of a 21-day challenge for racial equity to St. Ignatius after learning about America and Moore’s 21-day Racial Equity Challenge her brother’s church in Detroit was doing.

St. Ignatius church leaders incorporated readings from the Gospel and launched its own “Open Wide Our Hearts” 21-day Challenge online earlier this summer. The challenge incorporates personal prayer, reflection and learning to challenge racism and prejudice.

“We see this as a vital pro-life issue, and just as we are committed to other pro-life issues and activities, we give that same energy and the same emphasis to this work,” said Amy Auzenne, pastoral associate for evangelization and formation, who helped put the challenge together.

The 21-day challenge is just one of many tangible things that parishes across the Archdiocese can do to overcome racism, one of the two major pastoral concerns at the heart of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan 2020. Overcoming sexual abuse is the other major concern.

“We found after a series of conversations that these elements were roadblocks, not that the Sacraments are not important, but in addition to that,” said Ricardo Medina, director of the Archdiocese’s Family Life Ministry. “These two elements require special attention.”

Medina was one of three facilitators who led a diverse group of people from 13 parishes to explore the issues and challenges that parishes face and to advance solutions that parishes may want to work on. After many conversations over several months on topics from immigration to the Sacraments, the group found that the two main concerns were sexual abuse and racism.

Finalized in March, the plan promotes respect and inclusion. It lays out the objectives and the actions that parishes, and especially families, can take to overcome both sexual abuse and racism.

“We found out we didn’t want to keep diagnosing a problem that we know that is there,” Medina said. “Beyond racism, we want inclusion. Beyond abuse, we want respect.”

In the ongoing effort to overcome sexual abuse, Medina said parents should be talking to their children about their bodies and about who is allowed to touch them and who makes them feel uncomfortable. He said parishes should expand Safe Environment training and not just limit it to an activity or a facility. Also, they must make it a priority to support the victims.

“Parishes and families need to be courageous and prepared,” Medina said. “It’s also about combatting a wider culture of pornography, constant sexual stimulation and objectifying the other.”

As for the challenge to overcome racism, Medina said families and parishes should be having conversations about racism.

He said parishes need to be intentional about providing opportunities to be involved, and about eliminating obstacles and restrictions.

“The plan is an initiative to try to help our Church heal,” Medina said. “We need to keep working on this for the next several years, for sure.”

For more information on the Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan, visit