QUAERITUR: Use of force to defend a church from vandalism

From a reader:

Is is okay to fight in churches ? Can one shoot or punch vandals ? Can one defend the priest, or himself, or the Sacrament ?

Many who comment on destruction stories want to put up watches. Would this really work out properly ?

Thank you for your zeal.  The motto I have for my own coat-of-arms is Zelus Domus Tuae.

If there is serious concern about probable vandalism or break-ins, I would – first – hire a security service.  For example, one of my favorite parishes, Assumption Grotto in Detroit, has a service that watches the whole property, even at night.

In other words, if there are realistic concerns, perhaps professionals are the best starting point.

After that, I suppose that the usual moral considerations about the use of force are in play.  People have a right to defend themselves and their property and an obligation to defend others whose care is in their charge as well as the defenseless.  A proportionate use of force can be used in defense of self, others, and property.  That would also extend to that which is sacred.

Whatever is done, should not be done without consultation of the parish priest and also the police.  They should be advised if people are going to be around so they themselves are not taken for vandals.

Another idea: If people are going to be around the place, perhaps start Perpetual Adoration.  This would not only serve the cause of having people around and making they place a less desirable target, but it would also please the Lord and be of great spiritual benefit for the whole parish.

Perhaps some of the readers have had some experience with their own parish churches and security problems.

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29 Responses to QUAERITUR: Use of force to defend a church from vandalism

  1. RichR says:

    Our parish has a Perpetual Adoration chapel in it, and there was a concern of some strangers asking adorers for money at very late hours of the night. Due to these security concerns, the front doors to the chapel are locked from midnight until 6AM. Access is limited to a side door with an electronic numberpad entry. The codes are rotated periodically and the adorers are given strict instructions not to share this code. That has worked out fairly well for us.

  2. APX says:

    Another idea: If people are going to be around the place, perhaps start Perpetual Adoration. This would not only serve the cause of having people around and making they place a less desirable target, but it would also please the Lord and be of great spiritual benefit for the whole parish.

    This is a great idea and the most cost effective. Also, if there is a real concern, especially if there has been recent attacks on your parish, talking to the police about it and reporting such instances every time can help get more police patrols through the area to help act as a deterrence as well.

    I can’t speak for the laws in the US, but in Canada, you can’t use grevious bodily harm to protect your (or someone else’s) property from vandalism. You can only use it if there is a bona fide concern for the preservation of your life or someone’s whom you’re intrusted to protect.

    Be pro-active (visible deterrence) rather than reactive (shooting/punching people). PS: Knowing how sue-happy the US is, I would be quite fearful of putting my hands on someone lest he/she sue me.

  3. Ben Yanke says:

    We have a perpetual adoration chapel at one of our churches here, and we use RFID key cards (sort of like hotel key cards) to get in during the night.

    One thing that also happened in our case and many others: crime within a 1-2 mile radius went down to record lows (from what I’ve been told). So… I guess that’s the best security service you can get! We also installed cameras and other things to keep adorers safe during the night.

  4. dirtycopper says:

    Good response Father but we off duty cops need a bit of advice as well. My home parish is currently enduring an ongoing issue with a disruptive person. Her actions [spontaneous singing of “show tunes”] while not dangerous seem to be a result of some psychological issues and are certainly detracting from the Mass. It seems that the charitable “ignore her and she will go away” approach is not working. Sooner or later she is going to step over the line and I imagine that Father is going to give one of us the nod indicating enough is enough. While as cops we know what to do, what should we be mindful of if called upon to act as the local Gendarmeria Pontifica?

  5. Bill F says:

    Ben Y. –

    Not to rabbithole the discussion, but the RFID card idea is neat. Who gets the cards? What’s the management system for safeguarding/distributing them?

  6. JohnMa says:

    I’ve thought about this topic a lot, especially the part about when to use deadly force. I’ve decided that I would act in church as I would outside of church in this regard. I will use it if it is necessary to defend myself or someone else from the threat of death or serious bodily harm. I will not use it to protect property, even if permitted under state law. I will also not use deadly force to protect the Blessed Sacrament because I don’t think God would want deadly force to be used.

    As a side note, I’ve noticed those that attend the EF are more accepting of other parishioners being armed than those that attend the OF.

  7. Charivari Rob says:

    We had trouble this past fall in a couple of the less touristy neighborhoods of Boston – a spate of break-ins. Not vandalism in the defacing property sense – this was destructive burglary. Mostly Catholic churches and rectories, but other denominations as well. Definitely consult your pastor and do what you can – acting with his consent, within reason and within your means.

    In our case, we took several courses of action. These included
    – asked our pastor if the parish needed extra funds for the physical/mechanical security – repairing the point of break-in, upgrading locks or alarm service, adding lights.
    – took a good look around the church’s immediate streets, identified a non-functioning street light, reported this to the City as residents, explaining our concerns.
    – I had a conflict that kept me from the monthly neighborhood meeting, but you better believe I would have spoken with the community policing officer.
    – Whenever I had business that would take me in that general direction and could spare the time (especially in the after-dark hours), I would detour the couple of blocks, drive in and out of the parking lot and around the block, both looking for suspicious activity and making the place look a little more occupied. I advised friends to do the same at their neighboring parish.
    – In our area Knights council, we decided to move our meetings back from one of the local Catholic schools (that was out of the immediate trouble zone) and into the parishes, meaning there was one more evening that a building was occupied and lit.
    – Found out the correct person(s) at the Chancery to contact, to whom we could express our concerns, and encouraged as many people as possible to do likewise. The wheels sometimes grind slow, but if they appreciate the problem, they can contract a private security firm much more cost-effectively than one parish by itself.

    I don’t know if I would look at Adoration as “the most cost effective” idea. It has its own benefits, plus the fringe benefit of the property being and appearing occupied. If there’s safety/security concerns to property that would lead one to encourage increased presence of people – the same concerns apply moreso to people, requiring investment in locks, control systems, lights, intercom/phone/alarm.

    Off the top of my head, I can think of one church here in Boston that has Perpetual Adoration and uses some sort of controlled-access system (card, fob, P.I.N. – not sure what) for the overnight hours – St. Clement Eucharistic Shrine (Oblates of the Virgin Mary).

  8. profcarlos says:

    When I was a seminarian in Rio de Janeiro, in the now-distant Eighties, there would often be crazy Protestants trying to enter the churches to smash the holy images. I forcefully removed quite a few of them, and later the Archdiocese started protecting some more ancient images behind bullet-proof glass.
    In the Seventies, in Brazil, there have been also quite a few occasions in which TFP people had to use their karate training to keep Communists from smashing images of Our Lady.
    In the Nineties, a Protestant “pastor” from the “Universal Church of the Kingdom of God” kicked an image of Our Lady on live TV, and there were quite a few street brawls between Catholics and his co-religionists.
    Now things are a bit easier. The other day there was a crazy guy pretending to shoot everybody in Church (putting his arms as if he were firing a machine gun and saying tatatatata), and he was just left alone. Nonetheless, I really don’t know whether the same tolerance of madness would happen again after that horrible school shooting the other day, as people could now think he was really armed.

  9. pappy says:

    Recently, in a neighboring parish, some crazy guy came up and urinated on the altar in the middle of the mass. I remarked that we need to quit having teenage boys and women serve as ushers
    and get more men in our parish if the need every arouse. One person looked at me as if I had
    had two heads, fortunately one old guy (a convert in the last 10 years) said that in his Protestant church, the (male) ushers kept order.

  10. Melody says:

    @dirtycopper
    How bad off is she? It might be charitable to get in touch with social services and see if she requires a 5150. That would solve your problem and hopefully get her the help she needs.

  11. JulieC says:

    At our parish we have Adoration in the school chapel during the day from 9am to 9pm so there is always someone around the premises and cars in the parking lot which is comforting. However, we had a problem last year when someone kept breaking into the chapel at night to steal the collection box. The burglar was not caught but it must have been someone who was extremely thin as he/she broke and climbed through the stained glass windows in the chapel doors which measure about 12 inches high and 9 inches wide.

  12. Ralph says:

    Our rural parish has had some problems in the past. For instance, we have had devil worshipers break into and vandalize classrooms, had a satinist disrupt a mass, had consecrated Hosts “stashed” for later retrieval.

    Our Pastor was forced to keep the church locked unless a Mass was schedualed. He also stopped any reception of communion in the hand. Also, when the satinist disrupted Mass, some men followed at a safe distance until the police were able to catch the person. (turns out it was a very troubled teen aged girl) In this instance, our Pastor offered a Mass and prayer for her.

    One thing from that time that stuck with me was our Pastors joyfull attitude. I remember him saying that the attacks were a form of postive affermation to him. “You know you are doing some real good in a community when the Devil decided to single you out!”

  13. APX says:

    @pappy
    I remarked that we need to quit having teenage boys and women serve as ushers

    As a woman who is trained in self defence, take-downs, grappling, and pain compliance holds, etc I find this insulting, as I could probably do more to handle such people than some men. What you need are better trained ushers to know how to handle such instances.

  14. EXCHIEF says:

    As a law enforcement officer I can tell you that “the use of force” to prevent vandalism is a crime in itself. Preventative security is one thing but use of force against one causing damage but who is not a threat to human beings is illegal.

  15. skull kid says:

    EXCHIEF: I’m not sure what the law is in the UK, but if I see someone smashing up the tabernacle, depending on my own confidence in dealing with it, I might stop them. Personally I probably wouldn’t, but the option is there, regardless of what the secular law says.

    I remember reading in an examination of conscience, it included the sin of not stopping the priest from smashing up the sanctuary!

  16. JohnMa says:

    Exchief,

    Maybe in your jurisdiction but not in all jurisdictions in the US. As someone in the legal profession who has studied the issue a lot I can assure you it depends on the state.

  17. At St. Josephs in Richmond, Virginia (extraordinary use only parish) several of our men lawfully carry concealed weapons. Our state attorney general, a Catholic homeschooler by the way, just ruled that state law allows for carrying weapons in churches “for any good cause” including self-defense.

    Given the spate of shootings at churches and the hostility of some towards the Church, especially traditional churches, better safe than sorry.

  18. dirtycopper says:

    Sadly Melanie here in the People’s Republic of New Jersey a 5150 is just a bad Van Halen album. Until she is a definitive threat to herself or others the “system” will not take any definitive measures.

    JohnMa is correct in that proportional use of force [short of deadly] is perfectly acceptable to protect property.

    To those of you posting about cost effective deterrents to vandalism, cameras are inexpensive and a great way to get to the bottom of criminal activity. They just have to be set up correctly. It allowed us to identify a miscreant who was hitting the poor box fairly regularly.

    I have never been a big proponent of carrying my gun to Mass. The thought of using deadly force in God’s house is not an idea I am comfortable with. But non lethal alternatives in defending the sanctuary and those in it, don’t really have a problem with it.

  19. Former Altar Boy says:

    If someone was attacking the tabernacle, I would evaluate the risks but likely move to defend Our Lord. St Tarcicius, pray for me.

  20. JMody says:

    Folks – “use of force” is a very specific legal term. Dirtycopper correct me, but if someone tries to vandalize a place and I stand in his way, I am not violating the law there. If he tries to injure me and I defend myself, then things are completely different.

    A cop friend of mine had a great play during the First Communion Mass for our kids a few years back. Some older guy was staring at all the women that went by, and then started checking out the second-graders. So my friend (named Angel, how ironic) went up to the guy, shook his hand, said “Hey how ya doin”?” like it was an old friend, and then hoisted him over the pew and dragged him outside like a rag doll.

    Some folks here are getting a bit carried away. I don’t think I’d lay down a final protective fire on the tabernacle, but I know I wouldn’t stand idly by, either. And as for teens and women — OK, properly trained folks who are capable, regardless of age or gender. As long as they can hoist drunks and tuck them under their arm like Angel did …

  21. EXCHIEF says:

    I didn’t say there was nothing that could be done–but the title of this thread referred to use of force. The law in most states is that you can only use physical force to protect a person from physical harm and that you cannot use physical force to protect property. Now an intervention to protect the Blessed Sacrament could very easily escalate into a situation where the perp uses physical force against the one intervening….that changes the whole equation. Would I take all lawful and reasonable steps to protect the Blessed Sacrament? yes, of course. And for what it is worth I am one of those cops who does carry a firearm concealed in Church.

  22. Charivari Rob says:

    tominrichmond – “At St. Josephs in Richmond, Virginia (extraordinary use only parish) several of our men lawfully carry concealed weapons. Our state attorney general, a Catholic homeschooler by the way, just ruled that state law allows for carrying weapons in churches “for any good cause” including self-defense.

    What the government says is lawful regarding carrying weapons in church is one consideration.

    What your bishop says on the matter is also of importance.

    The Virginia AG’s opinion in this matter also included the note that churches, etc… can restrict or ban guns on their property if they so choose. In a similar matter, the Catholic bishops in the state of Louisiana announced that concealed handguns would not be allowed in church – the state permits concealed handguns but leaves final say to those with authority over a church. http://catholic-bibles.blogspot.com/2011/04/la-bishops-ban-guns-from-catholic.html

  23. dirtycopper says:

    “if someone tries to vandalize a place and I stand in his way, I am not violating the law there. If he tries to injure me and I defend myself, then things are completely different.” Quite correct, and I would expect any any adult worth their salt to do exactly that. It is, after all, our Lord in that Tabernacle.

    As to your friend Angel, nicely done.

  24. RichardT says:

    In the places where law only allows force to be used in defence of persons, not property, that gives the fascinating possibility of a legal argument about whether a consecrated Host can be legally regarded as a person.

    Not as ridiculous as it sounds, since in common law ‘self-defence’ is partly subjective – did you believe that a person was imminently at risk of serious harm. Can that belief apply not only to the likelihood of harm, but also to the Person of the Host?

  25. APX says:

    In the places where law only allows force to be used in defence of persons, not property, that gives the fascinating possibility of a legal argument about whether a consecrated Host can be legally regarded as a person.

    I very highly doubt it.

  26. dirtycopper says:

    If the Obama Administration’s former “green jobs czar” is successful in his bid to give nature the same rights status as humans shouldn’t those rights be extended to He who created nature itself?

  27. The common law is probably more concerned with the accidents than the substance, in this case.

    Generally, if somebody’s rushing at the Tabernacle, he’s probably rushing towards the priest, the deacon, or the little old lady in the corner pew. Even if not, obviously any person rushing the Tabernacle is crazy and a danger to himself. You’re allowed to tackle people to prevent them from killing themselves in some bizarre fashion.

  28. AnAmericanMother says:

    pappy,

    Agree – allowing always, as APX said, for properly trained ladies. There is a weight/height/strength differential, but that shouldn’t come into play with a disrupter, who’s unlikely to be educated in such things.

    Also agree that Catholic parishes should be proactive in the matter, and not wait for something awful to happen. My husband was Head Usher for the 11:15 a.m. service at our former Episcopal parish. He assembled a team composed almost entirely of police and former military, with police/MP/MAA training. A lot of them were big fellows, but a couple of little skinny guys with extensive martial arts experience were on the team too. They never had to put a real hurt on anybody, because “why don’t we step outside and talk this over?” worked quite well when delivered by a smiling 6’6″ dude flanked by a couple of mean looking muscular assistants. Even when things were getting pretty ugly towards the end, when we had regular visits from the “rainbow” crowd looking for trouble, nothing violent ever happened.

    I dunno about toting in church, it seems disrespectful, but then I think three words: “New Life Church”. I’m not, but I hope somebody is.

    Also dunno why the EF crowd seem to be better armed . . . but that’s true here too. The FSSP parishioners could probably hold up their end in a small war.

  29. I know of one diocesan priest who shot a would be thief in the leg… I also heard he shot up the whole sacristy.