Jesuit priests have vowed to raise $100 million for the descendants of people enslaved by the order as part of a broader scope of racial reconciliation measures in the US, The New York Times reported.
The initiative is one of the biggest to date by an institution to one way or another make up for slavery, and "the largest effort by the Roman Catholic Church to make amends for the buying, selling, and enslavement of Black people", church officials and historians shared with the NYT.
The money raised is expected to stream into a new foundation established in partnership with a group of slave descendants who initiated negotiations with the Jesuits after learning from a range of articles in The New York Times that their ancestors had been bought and sold in 1838.
The Jesuit Foundation aims to support educational aspirations of slave descendants, actively engaging and supporting programmes and activities that "highlight truth, accelerate racial healing and reconciliation, and advance racial justice and equality in America", their statement reads, dwelling on what they referred to as "racial healing".
A further quarter will be given away in the form of scholarships and grants, while a smaller portion will cover the emergency needs of descendants and their everyday issues.
The foundation has set itself a goal to develop "a full understanding of, and reconciliation with the numerous institutions of higher education and other entities that profited from slavery", the statement adds.
The initiative comes as demonstrations over racial injustice in the past year, notably George Floyd protests last summer, have pushed lawmakers and companies to consider making reparations for slavery and repercussions of the events of 1838, when "272 enslaved men, women, and children were sold by the Jesuit owners of Georgetown University to plantation owners in Louisiana".
The monetary pledge is way below the $1 billion benchmark called for by descendant leaders. Yet, Rev. Timothy P. Kesicki, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, and Joseph Stewart, the acting president of the foundation, moved to assure the activists that the hefty sum remains the longer-term goal.
Meanwhile, Sandra Green Thomas, the founding president of the GU272 Descendants Association, called the $100 million pledge from the Jesuits "more than I ever thought we would see".
She went on to voice concerns over administrative costs and "whether or not this foundation is going to benefit descendants or those who are in control of the foundation". "If the money is not earmarked for the descendants, then it really isn't reparative. We need more details", she told the NYT.