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Bishop: ‘Thoughts and prayers … not sufficient’ in gun deaths
Bishop Timothy Doherty on a new column in the aftermath of gun violence: “Don’t tell me, ‘Don’t talk about firearms. Stay in your own lane.’ Well, the bodies are coming into my lane.”
Thanks to sponsor Stuart & Branigin for support to help make this edition of the Based in Lafayette reporting project possible.
Bishop Timothy Doherty said that when he finished his latest column for the Lafayette Diocese newspaper – a plea surrounding gun violence that he’d titled “Liberty and safety: Not an either-or” – he told the Catholic Moment staff that he didn’t want to wait for distribution with the scheduled May 14 publication date.
Doherty said news was fresh from a series of high-profile incidents – mass shootings at a Louisville bank, a birthday party in Dadeville, Alabama, a school in Nashville; shooting deaths involving people knocking on the wrong doors, pulling into a wrong driveway or looking to get into the wrong car in a shopping center parking lot – that he figured it would be good to get what he’d written out before memories faded. So, it was quietly posted in late April.
In the piece, Doherty wrote to the congregation – some 62 parishes in a diocese that stretches across a section of Indiana, from Illinois to Ohio – that they couldn’t “allow ourselves to be passive” and that “thoughts and prayers after tragedies are necessary but not sufficient.”
In the piece, Doherty wrote about clergy being used, left to provide spiritual solace, and “how the widespread violent use of firearms is increasingly co-opting our preaching,” using clergy as clean-up crew, of sorts, at funerals or public vigils.
“Because by May 14, it may be a quiet issue, again,” Doherty said about publishing the piece weeks ahead of the regular print edition. “Since I submitted the text, there have been probably six of seven more mass shootings, by however you want to define that, and some really, really awful things. …
“I think we have to own up to the fact that we can’t just be in the position of waiting for the aftermath of all these tragedies for the clergy to have a function.”
From his column:
“Without some serious adjustment in personal and social priorities, we will continue to expect health care professionals to spend more time attending to survivors of gunshots. Or first responders’ training to offset avoidable threats, rather than spending energy on maintaining good order. What kind of liberty acquiesces to an escalation of firearms threats?
“Will my brothers and sisters in ministry increasingly be expected to bring spiritual solace, if not healing, in the aftermath of shootings? If so, this translates as: ‘God’s place in all this is to handle the cleanup and broken hearts.’ That’s pretty crummy theology.”
His conclusion: Gun owners and firearms experts “rightly have a voice and vote” on a “solution that aims for safety and not dividing people into pro or anti firearms camps.”
“At the same time, there should be something we can do about the 40,000-plus annual fatalities related to firearms in our country. Those of us whose families suffer, and those who are first responders, emergency department staffs, school administrators, chaplains and clergy who preside at visitations and funerals in the wake of violent acts also insist on a voice and a vote.”
Doherty said he has not regularly or directly preached on topics of gun violence or possible ways to curb it. He said he joined a firearms safety group after James Brady, former White House press secretary, was shot during the 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. He said that while that membership lapsed, he kept up on matters of gun violence and advances in military-style weaponry and ammunition, along with reports from his clergy about gun-related deaths, including a growing number of suicides.
“It’s a little overwhelming,” Doherty said. “I just think the thing that became very apparent to me is that people are just using their clergy. I'm feeling very used. And I think doctors and nurses are feeling used, so that other people can assert a certain right, without concomitant responsibilities. And so, the people who have to do the cleanup are put in a very difficult position.”
His call for reform: “I certainly think legislation has to be at the root of it.” That would include background checks, age limitations, licensing, limits on rounds in magazines, proper storage, red flag laws.
Reaction across the diocese has been low-key, so far, he said. He said he’s not sure it will stay that way, as his column is found.
“It just seems that all I’m doing is calling the question,” Doherty said. “Don’t tell me, ‘Don’t talk about firearms. Stay in your own lane.’ Well, the bodies are coming into my lane. … The point I’m making is that I get a vote on this, because it’s affecting how we represent the Gospel and how we represent our mission.”
To read Bishop Doherty’s full piece, here’s a link: “Liberty and safety: not an either-or.”
Thanks, again, to Stuart & Branigin for sponsoring today’s edition.
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