An order of Catholic priests has pledged $100m in reparations to descendants of Black people it enslaved and sold, in the largest initiative of its kind by the church.
Leaders of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States have promised to raise the sum, which will be paid to a foundation set up with a group of descendants, and to “begin a very serious process of truth and reconciliation”.
“Our shameful history of Jesuit slaveholding in the United States has been taken off the dusty shelf and it can never be put back,” said the Rev Timothy P Kesicki, president of the Jesuit Conference.
“Racism will endure in America if we continue to turn our heads away from the truth of the past and how it affects us all today. The lasting effects of slavery call each of us to do the work of truth and reconciliation. Without this joining of hearts and hands in true unity, the cycle of hatred and inequality in America will never end.”
Jesuits used enslaved labour and sold enslaved people for more than a century, to support clergy, churches and schools, including what is now known as Georgetown University in Washington DC.
The announcement came amid growing calls for reparations across US institutions including churches, colleges and Congress.
Descendants of enslaved people called on the order to raise $1bn, after discovering that their ancestors were among 272 enslaved men, women and children sold in 1838 to plantation owners in Louisiana, by the Jesuit owners of Georgetown.
The order has committed to raising $100m over three to five years, with $15m deposited in a trust so far, Father Kensicki and Joseph M Stewart, acting president of the Descendants Truth &
About 5,000 living descendants of people enslaved by the Jesuits have reportedly been identified by a non-profit, the Georgetown Memory Project. As the first and largest corporate slaveholder in the Americas and the largest Christian supporter of segregation in the US, the Catholic church will “never be able to repay fully what is owed for the millions of Black lives stolen and destroyed by its own practices of slavery and segregation”, Williams said.