ROME (AP) — The highest-ranking American cardinal at the Vatican on Friday deplored the “unjust” killing of George Floyd, saying it laid bare that the Christian principles of the U.S. Constitution aren’t being applied to black people.
Cardinal Kevin Farrell, who heads the Vatican’s laity office, told The Associated Press that the brutality of what happened to Floyd after his arrest in Minneapolis was so unreal it seemed like a movie. Floyd, who was handcuffed, died after a police officer pressed his knee into his neck even after he said he couldn’t breathe.
“We would never think that that could possibly happen,” Farrell said. “They are trained individuals who knew that in that position, that person was not going to survive.”
“Now, what brings a person to that point?” he said. “We all have to ask ourselves: What has brought us to that point?”
Farrell on Friday presided over a prayer service in honor of Floyd and other victims of racism organized by the Sant’Egidio Community, a Rome-based Catholic charity that is close to Pope Francis.
Sitting in the front row at the Santa Maria in Trastevere church in downtown Rome was U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Callista Gingrich and her husband, Newt, the former U.S. house speaker. They both wore protective masks and sat in chairs spaced apart, as called for by Italy’s anti-virus health measures.
In his remarks, Farrell said the protests that have broken out after Floyd’s death make clear that the civil rights movement of the 1960s failed to resolve all of America’s race problems.
Despite laws, constitutional protections and famous speeches that proclaim equality, “the human heart can always close itself in its egoism and return to being polluted by sin, provoking new injustices, violences and oppressions,” he said.
Farrell, an Irish-born naturalized U.S. citizen and the former bishop of Dallas, prayed for Floyd, Floyd’s family and all victims of injustice, and for peaceful, fraternal coexistence among Americans.
“May they find peace, serenity and comprehension,” he said.
Speaking earlier in the day to the AP, Farrell said he had long ago come to believe that divisive, racist language can kill. Demonizing rhetoric, he said, “just trickles down and gives what happened in Minneapolis, it gives a sense to people of entitlement.”
He said he hoped with Friday’s prayer service to remind Americans of the Christian principles on which their nation was founded: equal protections under the law, the right to life, liberty and the “equal possibility of prosperity and well-being for all.”
Farrell said that includes blacks, who he said had been excluded almost as an entire group from the opportunities that the U.S. Constitution and its principles purport to offer all U.S. citizens.
“How far have those principles penetrated the active lives?” the cardinal asked. “We all pray about it, we all talk about it. But in a real sense, how do we live it?”
“How often does the system in the United States not permit that to happen? I think that that’s where the future of our country is,” he said. “That’s what we need to speak out about.”
This version corrects the spelling of the first name of the U.S. ambassador to Callista.