Today in Catholic History – Archbishop of New Orleans excommunicates three

On 16 April 1962 Archbishop Joseph Rummel of New Orleans excommunicated three Catholics for their public opposition to his plan to desegregate Archdiocesan schools.

New Orleans’ parishes and schools of the Archdiocese had been segregated since the failure of Reconstruction in the 1870s. Earlier Archbishops had sought to improve educational opportunities for black Catholics by establishing separate schools, but these schools were generally not as well funded or supported as the schools attended by white Catholics.

In 1948, Rummel admitted two black students to the Notre Dame Seminary. In 1951, he removed “white” and “colored” signs from the Catholic Churches and opened Saint Augustine High School – the first high school dedicated to the education of young black men. In 1953, he officially ordered the desegregation of the entire archdiocese. He wrote:

Ever mindful, therefore, of the basic truth that our Colored Catholic brethren share with us the same spiritual life and destiny, the same membership in the Mystical Body of Christ, the same dependence upon the Word of God, the participation in the Sacraments, especially the Most Holy Eucharist, the same need of moral and social encouragement, let there be no further discrimination or segregation in the pews, at the Communion rail, at the confessional and in parish meetings, just as there will be no segregation in the kingdom of heaven.

In 1956 he issued another pastoral letter proclaiming segregation incompatible with the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Desegregation faced a significant amount of opposition. One parish was ordered closed in 1955 when it refused to accept a black priest. Some Catholics sent a letter to Pope Pius XII seeking a papal decree in support of segregation, but Pius XII responded by declaring racism to be a major evil. Opposition to desegregation throughout Louisiana would delay school desegregation until the 1962-1963 school year.

In response to desegregation, there were public protests and threats to transfer children to segregated public schools. Archbishop Rummel threatened opponents with excommunication which caused most to accede to segregation but he would excommunicate three particularly vocal opponents for defying his authority. Again, opponents of desegregation sought support from the Vatican, but L’Osservatore Romano called Rummel’s actions “admirable”.

Eventually desegregation would be accepted throughout the archdiocese.

See Time Magazine articles on the subject
See article on one of the excommunicated

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One Comment

  1. TC
    Posted May 1, 2010 at 5:51 am | Permalink | Reply

    So why don’t bishops excommunicate people anymore?
    There are plenty of candidates; Catholics for “choice”, womynpriests, &c.

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