Bishop Joseph Perry, auxiliary of Chicago, has been appointed as the new chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism.
Multiple sources close to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) confirmed Perry’s appointment to The Pillar.
Perry replaces Archbishop Shelton Fabre of Louisville, who has led the committee since 2018.
The appointment was made last month by Archbishop Timothy Broglio, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in consultation with the executive committee of the conference.
U.S bishops were informed of Perry’s appointment on April 13, but no public announcement has been made by the USCCB, which did not respond to questions from The Pillar by the time of publication.
Despite the change in leadership, Fabre is still listed as the chairman on the USCCB website.
News of the appointment was circulated to the bishops just two days before Perry reached the age of 75, when bishops are obliged to submit their resignations to Pope Francis. It is unclear if, as chairman of an ad hoc committee, Perry would be eligible to continue in the role should the pope accept his resignation while he is still serving as chairman.
The Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism was created by the USCCB in 2017, amid rising white nationalist activity, including a rally in Charlottesville, Va., that turned deadly in August 2017.
Initially authorized for a single three-year term, the committee’s mandate was renewed for an additional three years in 2020.
The committee says that it “seeks to teach about and to witness to the intrinsic dignity of the human person as an antidote to the grave sin of racism.”
Its work has included educational resources on racism and human dignity, community outreach, promotion of black sainthood causes, and advocacy for public policies that help address the contemporary effects of racism in society.
The committee has also hosted listening sessions and worked to implement the bishops’ 2018 pastoral letter against racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love.”
“We like to think that this part of the Church's social teaching is being sown in the hearts of people,” he said. “Sometimes we get a little depressed about it when certain incidents happen, and are given wide media attention, or something happens on Catholic soil that really seems to be a backwards step from what we're trying to get across. But that's the nature of the beast.”
In a 2020 interview with the University of Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life, Perry pointed to individualism in American society as a barrier to overcoming ongoing wounds of racism.
“We are not terribly inspired to go outside of ourselves. We create our own private sanctuaries and let people in that we choose. Our collective responsibility for creating community is less appreciated. We don’t like people telling us what to do and who to befriend, who to interact with,” he said.
Confronting racism in American life will require people to be intentional and move out of their own comfort zones, he continued.
“I encourage people who consider themselves Christians to schedule diversity in their life, to examine their lifestyles to notice who it is they hang around with beyond just who lives next door to you and who are your relatives,” he said, inviting people to seek out diverse friendships and experiences for their children as well.
Perry was born in Chicago in 1948. He was raised Catholic and credits much of his religious formation to the Capuchin Franciscan fathers.
He attended the Capuchin’s Seminary of St. Mary in Crown Point, Indiana, and then St. Francis Seminary in St. Francis, Wisconsin.
Perry was ordained a priest in 1975 for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, where he served in parishes and on the archdiocesan tribunal for two decades, and he was appointed an auxiliary bishop of Chicago by Pope John Paul II in 1998.
The bishop has taught canon law in both Milwaukee and Chicago.
Perry has served since 2004 as the chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on African American Catholics, and he is also a member of the committee on education and the secretariat for family, laity, women and youth.