Catholics clinging to guns, not God?

A man fires his handgun along a mountain range in Buckeye, Arizona, January (Joshua Lott/Reuters ) The Boston Marathon bombing … Continued

A man fires his handgun along a mountain range in Buckeye, Arizona, January (Joshua Lott/Reuters )

The Boston Marathon bombing on April 15th occurred while Washington politicians looked for ways to avoid restricting guns. The twining of events underscores the violence in U.S. society and the impotence of the political system. This tolerance for violence begs for institutional Catholicism to articulate a moral vision condemning the culture of death. But I am not optimistic that will happen any time soon.

Unfortunately, Catholics in America–who claim to follow the Prince of Peace–often mirror the culture at large when it comes to attitudes on violence. “I need a crucifix to save my soul and a handgun to save my ass,” said John M. Snyder, who wears one hat as ex-lobbyist for gun owners and the other as head of the St. Gabriel Possenti Society for Catholics exercising their Second Amendment rights. As with growing numbers of those in Catholic America both left and right- — Snyder ignores pastoral statements he disagrees with, like the recent support from Bishop Stephen Blaire for the Senate’s gun safety bill. “I do feel a great loyalty to the church and the bishops and it pains me to see them behaving so foolishly,” he stated.

It would be easy to criticize this point of view as “cafeteria Catholicism,” but logic would require a similar judgment on those dissenting from the bishops on issues like same-sex marriage laws. Many in Catholic America do not know the church’s teaching on specific issues, and those who know generally feel free to pick and choose among the ones they like. I don’t know if “malaise” describes this circumstance for the church’s moral authority, but it certainly is one of the problems that Pope Francis I will have to address.

It is a papal matter, too, since the USCCB has trapped itself inside the Catch-22 syndrome of the Fortnight for Freedom. As I have described in this column, once the bishops started to work to rally Catholics before the 2012 election against President Obama’s health insurance reforms, they set a standard. The same amounts of money, mandated letters read in pulpits, Masses celebrated by cardinals and tee-shirts printed with slogans must be used for any new campaign to illustrate the importance of a public issue. In other words, if the bishops do not mount the same effort as they did in Fortnight for Freedom when it comes to immigration reform, gun safety, protection of social service funding, etc., they can be considered not to care as much for these other issues as they do about contraception being covered by health insurance.

Worse yet is how the bishops have linked the HHS mandate controversy to the constitutional right to practice (all) religion. It is if they did not know there are Catholic gun advocates and right-to-life extremists who espouse violence with the same reasoning as the right wing militias training to revolt against Obama’s “tyranny.”
Comparing U.S. Catholicism today to last century’s Mexican Cristeros is dangerous when you remember that one of the Cristeros murdered President lvaro Obreg n in 1928, claiming that defending the faith legitimized the assassination. When a prelate compares Obama to Hitler and goes uncensored by fellow bishops all the episcopate has agreed that the U.S. president is a tyrant, since legal principle holds “Qui tacuit consentire” [Silence is agreement].

I am sure that the USCCB is against guns or bombs being used to kill or maim, even when the cause is our faith. But by using so many resources in the Fortnight for Freedom and not on other issues, the bishops have taken sides. Their relentless attacks on the Obama administration open the door to misinterpretation by those on the fringe who would resort to violence in the name of religion. What defense will Catholics have if God forbid!– one day a bomb goes off and the perpetrators claim to be acting in obedience to the bishops’ denunciation of President Obama for enforcing laws “shameful and criminal in the eyes of Almighty God”?

I think Pope Francis has begun the shift in leadership style away from polarizing confrontation and towards inspirational example from bishops. A future pastoral effort at the grass roots that includes the passage ” learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart,” (Mt. 11:29) would be an excellent way to retract the recent resistance rhetoric.


Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo is Professor Emeritus of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at Brooklyn College and Distinguished Scholar of the City University of New York.
  • Old USCG RD2

    “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” “Nothing,” they answered. He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.

  • WyoSpartan

    WaPo – You simply cannot stand it, can you? Guns are here to stay, so move along to another cause. These stories are really making you look obsessed. Just give us the news, not your jibberish.

  • Italian Rose

    If the Pope were to say that gun ownership were a mortal sin, Catholics would have no choice but to get rid of their guns. American Catholic Clerics should Petition Rome to issue such a ruling.

  • immigrant1

    So called Catholics or those who claim to be Cathoilic often mean catholic. Those are the ones that this article is referencing. These people will not get rid of their guns regardless of what the Pope says. On the other hand, choice is not something anyone can take from anyone else. That is God given.

  • Italian Rose

    I am meaning for the Pope to issue a Papal Bull stating that the mere ownership of a gun by a Catholic is a mortal sin meaning a Catholic would need to get rid of their guns and confess their sin of gun ownership to a parrish priest be granted absolution and do pennance before they can receive Holy Communion. Of course Police Officers and Military would be exempt because the government owns their weapons and they are not in private ownership.

  • one nation

    Not all USA RCs believe the same even though they may or may not go to church. Just ask them.

  • one nation

    immigrant1 and Italian Rose, define a catholic, sin as well as a America’s supreme law,the Constitution.

  • one nation

    Italian Rose, if the pope told you to jump, would you ask how high?

  • patriot1

    I see ther are many ignorant people on this blog making statements about owning a gun and how the Pope should make it a mortal sin. It doesn’t work that way. Please don’t comment. You only demonstrate your stupidy and lack of knowledge regarding the Church. I am not a Mormon, a Jew, or a Muslim for instance. I do not know any of their their laws or tradition very well. It would be stupid for me to make comments about them.

  • patriot1

    To Italian Rose: By your name I assume you are Italian. If you are Italian, chances are you are Catholic by baptism. If you are a practicing Catholic, you should know better than to make the above statement. If you are not a practicing Catholic, I would suggest you become one, to understand what constitutes sin, or not make anymore idiotic statements.

  • Marylamb

    As so many do, this writer confuses what the Catholic church actually teaches and what the very weak fallible humans who comprise it teach.
    Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the llives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm……….
    Note the words GRAVE DUTY.
    If you want to know what the church teaches read the Catechism.
    I don’t know if this guy is not very informed or just your garden variety Catholic basher.

  • Marylamb

    Have you read the Catechism Rose? Specifically 2265. “Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the llives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm”……….
    Note the words GRAVE DUTY. I think YOU are a “so called” catholic yourself. Maybe you should get more informed about the faith you claim to represent.
    The Pope CANNOT declare ANYTHING a mortal sin.
    I almost said your sould put up that “this is a gun free home” poster but I think you may be uninformed enough to actually DO it. Which would put YOU in GRAVE danger from the people who choose to prey on the weak.
    God bless you and read the CATECHISM!

  • Marylamb

    Catechism of the Catholic Church 2265. “Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the llives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm”……….
    Note the words GRAVE DUTY.

  • Elohist


    Where in the Catholic Catechism does it say that mentally deranged persons have a right to own a Bushmaster assault rifle? Jesus said “Those who live by the sword (the assault weapon of his time) die by the sword.”and ordered Peter to abandon use of that weapon. Are you suggesting that the words of Jesus are not as important as your strange reading of the Catholic Catechism that evil has a right to use assault rifles to kill innocent children? Do you really think that 8 year old kids need to pack heat in order to be Catholics with the “grave duty” to kill anyone bullying them? The issue in the piece was about crazy people killing tyrants in the name of religion: what is wrong with Bishop Blaire’s request to extend background checks on assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons? That is the Ordinary Magisterium that interprets the Catechism. I prefer his reading to yours.

  • Marylamb

    Where did I say mentally deranged persons have a right to own a gun of ANY kind? I didn’t even say they should own a pressure cooker.
    What’s wrong with extended background checks? How are they working now? They’re NOT because people who should NOT own guns don’t GO THROUGH the background checks!
    Jesus also said Those without a sword sell your cloak and buy one. Remember THAT verse?
    YOU can take the word of a “bishop”. I will take the words of the magisterium who wrote the CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. YOU are in danger of cherry picking your catholic belief system by CHOOSING who says what YOU want to believe.
    On the other hand, I’m thinking YOU should not own a weapon of ANY kind because your grasp on reality is very very slim.

  • Marylamb

    magisterium might be the wrong word. There were many, many many Catholic theologins involved in the writing of the CCC. They were a check and balance system to prevent PERSONAL agenda’s and beliefs from promoted.
    YOUR bishop and even the Conference of Catholic BIshops do NOT always follow the Catechism. They are LEADERS but NOT infallible.

  • Elohist

    To Mary lamb;

    The Catholic Catechism is not an infallible document. The Magisterium of the Church must be followed because it shares in the infallibility of the church. See Lumen Gentium. The reason for background checks is because the right-wing Republicans exempt gun shows from the law. Your tired sing-song of Fox News talking points is really an exercise in intellectual vacuity. I suggest you change your name to “Marywolf” because the lamb part is only a disguise. We Catholics who are pro-life stand with the church against your kind.

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