These last two weeks for Americans have been completely tragic with mass shootings in Buffalo, Laguna Woods, and Uvalde to name a few.
These types of tragedies happen all over the USA and the world, and are a reminder of how important it is to spread the Message of Love through the Gospel so this does not happen.
But, sometimes it does feel like we as Catholics are powerless against the evils of the world.
And, to an extent, that is completely the case.
We can really only control ourselves, and our Church and its institutions, outside of a few exceptions like the Vatican City. Or at least this is how it seems.
Lately, I have been reading a lot about our Church's roles in various conflicts throughout time, from the early days under the brutality of an anti-Christian Roman Empire, to the countless interactions as minorities in various pagan states, to the Crusades, to the various wars in Europe, to both World Wars, and the Cold War itself, and through it all, no matter how powerless we felt, we continued to promote the Good Word and use our Church for good works.
After the mass shooting in Uvalde, neighboring Bishop Mark J. Seitz and his Diocese of El Paso wrote
: "We pledge to renew our efforts in the Church to assist in finding ways to more effectively identify people at risk of such behavior and to push for reasonable limits on the proliferation of firearms."
This pledge is an example of how the Church can exercise its power via hard and soft power to combat mass shootings and other horrific crimes.
Influence is a form of soft power, and thus the second part of this paragraph in the statement displays the soft power of the Church. This soft power allows the Church to be its own bully pulpit when it comes to issues regarding morality, legality, and other topics. This power is one we are all aware the Church possesses.
It is here that the Church can mold together a comprehensive plan to combat rising gun violence in the USA. While the Church will not be able to regulate this off of its premises, it will be able to influence politicians to implement some of these policies the Church or people in the Church come up with.
A great example of the Church succeeding in promoting its own policies has been in the Church's pro-life battle. The Church is lucky to have so many Catholics in power, but others also listen to our Church. We have seen that with a more Catholic Supreme Court, according to rumors so far, Roe v. Wade might get overturned, allowing for states already inacting pro-life legislation to succeed. In states like Texas, we have seen great success even at the city level with sanctuary cities for the unborn.
Another example is in our immigration reform, with a big proponent on immigration reform being Archbishop José Horacio Gómez of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and our current President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. His calls to reform immigration in a more friendly and open way toward immigrants, along with his book Immigration and the Next America: Renewing the Soul of Our Nation
, has transformed the American political landscape whereby within a decade, the USA is much more open to immigration. It is through the Catholic Church, and other religions and Christian denominations, that more Conservative Americans often find a soft spot for immigration, and thus, the soft power the Church possesses has pushed immigration policy into a more Christian direction.
However, there is also the hard power our Church and Its various institutions and organizations possess to create a better world. This is well-known too, but often is overlooked and discounted.
We have perhaps seen our Church's hard power best with Ukraine as all sorts of Catholic organizations from Catholic Relief Services to CARITAS to the Knights of Malta have all participated
in the feeding, sheltering, and treating of millions of Ukrainian refugees, as well as those in Ukraine.
On the concept of immigration, the Knights of Malta, through their sovereign status and Italian association, just signed another Memorandum of Understanding with the Italian Republic to have the Knights' medical personnel and volunteers continue to assist
the Italian Coast Guard on rescue missions of migrants in the Mediterranean.
And, in the USA, one can see the work done by our very own charitable organizations to provide shelter for people in need, such as Catholic Charities USA who work with all sorts of people including refugees
, and provide one of the largest social safety nets beyond the US Federal Government, just by itself, let alone when you include other Catholic organizations.
However, there is more the Catholic Church can do in terms of hard power when it comes to gun violence in the USA.
The soft power of the Church is already being endlessly exploited.
But, the hard power of the Church has not been exploited enough.
And this brings me back to the first part of what Bishop Mark J. Seitz and the Diocese of El Paso wrote in the paragraph quoted from the larger statement, and that is how they "pledge to renew [their] efforts in the Church to assist in finding ways to more effectively identify people at risk of such behavior".
This may be the most important part of the Bishop's and Diocese's statement, because it stresses how the Church wishes to play a part in the quest to search for and alert law enforcement to people likely to commit dangerous actions. While it may seem like the USA has it all figured out with very good intelligence gathering from the federal level most notably with the FBI domestically, to the state level, to the county level with sheriff departments, and to the city level with police departments, it is actually an intelligence network with many gaps needing to be filled.
After 2018, current Arizona Governor and Catholic, Doug Ducey, laid out a plan
to fight the rising gun violence across the USA and one key point of his fight was a way to centralize the information each branch of law enforcement was receiving better.
At a basic level, the Church in the USA can work to fill this gap by reporting suspicious persons to all levels of the USA's law enforcement apparatus, but at a more elite level, the Church can work with the authorities to produce a better system. The Church has tons of clergy and laity at their disposal who are experts in computer systems and as seen with Catholic Charities, the Church can provide services the government does as well. The Church could help the USA and law enforcements around the world consolidate this data, and even have churches, schools, and other entities be able to place data into a more centralized system to alert more retailers and each branch of law enforcement so that individuals flagged by law enforcement in one jurisdiction for certain crimes are not able to purchase firearms because they are not flagged in another system by another jurisdiction.
In addition, the Church can create more defenses against these acts of violence as well.
Does this mean a Church police force or militia?
Well, that is beyond the pale of this article, but what it does mean is that we should be prepared to defend our Churches and fellow parishioners more to provide an extra sense of security in these troubled times.
We have so many groups like the Knights of Columbus, the Knights of Malta, and the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre that already volunteer countless hours to our Church, and this could be a chance for them to act as protective knights within our parish properties, just as the knights in the middle ages protected pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land.
Not every parish will agree, but I remember the Riots of 2020 and thinking how horrible would it be if our churches were destroyed, and because of the destructive nature in the extreme factions in our political culture, we saw statues of saints destroyed and churches vandalized, and then later, we witnessed churches in Canada burned down due to the missionary school grave reports. And then, just recently, churches have once again been vandalized due to the reports that Roe v. Wade will be overturned.
We are very lucky that no one has been hurt yet, but the fact is that churches are considered a soft target, as seen in various shootings at churches like in Laguna Woods, and other places of worship like synagogues. In fact, this is why many synagogues have their own security to prevent acts of violence.
Without trying to place blame on the brave men and women that serve our communities in law enforcement across the world, it is troubling to see how law enforcement stood by in Uvalde and even prevented parents from going in to stop the massacre of innocents in the school due to fears of it being unsafe for them.
And, with far less anger, it was very hurtful to see law enforcement ignore, and politicians encourage destruction to Church properties in the riots.
We must look at these recent events and wonder if we want our parishes to be places where crazy people look to as a target they can easily destroy.
While we should make sure that our churches stay welcoming and open to all, we must be prepared for violence, and I believe we have the hard power to protect our churches, as well as the hard power to work with our law enforcement to stop these horrific tragedies plaguing the USA. And, there are plenty of clever ways to camoflauge security to keep the focus on the Sanctity of the Mass.
The Catholic Church in the USA, and each country, makes a huge difference to the health and safety around the globe, but It can always do more. In the USA, I call on the Church to do more so that our law enforcement is more prepared, and within our Church, so that we are prepared and not dependent on others for our own survival. This last part hits home when you look at the atrocities committed against Christians in Church in the Middle East and North Africa especially, but also in many other regions of the world. How many of those tragedies could have been stopped if our Church provided our own security and took a leading role in law enforcement in those countries?
Prayers are effective and really do work. But, supplementing prayer is a good policy too. After all, we do not just pray for the needy, we also clothe them, feed them, and provide them with shelter. So, let us not just pray for our own safety and the safety of others. Instead, let us supplement this prayer with action so that we can provide our community and the greater community with better safety.