QUAERITUR: Are priests allowed to carry handguns?

From a reader:

Are priests allowed to carry handguns? I have heard stories of priests owning guns, going hunting, etc, but could a priest have a handgun, conceal and carry, etc? What do you think about a priest having a handgun underneath his vestments while saying Mass?

In short, yes. Priests and bishops can carry hand guns, according to the laws of the place where they live. Priests are not second class citizens. They are – right now at least – not prohibited by laws of the state or laws of the Church.

Should bishops carry hand guns?  That is another question.

I have been over this territory elsewhere.  There are arguments on both sides.

About carrying a handgun while saying Mass… I am neutral on that point.   It is wrong for a priest or bishop to say Mass with his wallet in his back pocket?  Money can be misused, after all.  Can he have his smart phone in his pocket?  A pocket knife on his key ring?  You can do bad things with smart phones or knives or keys.

On the other hand, it is a little hard to get at your handgun when you are wearing vestments.  So, what difference does it make?

At this point I know the readers are going to remind us of the liturgical beretta, which is a different can of beans.

Maybe I could create a private, member-only, cleric-only discussion about which weapons are best.

Also, anyone who considers carrying a concealed weapon has to give serious thought to whether or not it is a good option for him.  Perhaps an electronic gadget is a better option, perhaps pepper-spray.  A handgun is a serious choice.

I can hear some of you know shouting, “But Father! But Father!”… perhaps accompanied by some hand-wringing and spittle flecks starting to shoot from your mouths… “A bishop or priest should never ever carry a handgun! Hand guns SHOOT people!  No… wait… people shoot people… okay.  Still… a bishop or priest should never under any circumstance or imaginable scenario shoot anyone or anything for any reason.  You should all let yourselves and any innocent members of the flock entrusted to you be victimized or killed.  After all, shepherds let their sheep be stolen, wounded or eaten by predators all the time and so should you!”

I don’t know that bishops or priests shouldn’t defend themselves or the innocent.  As a matter of fact, perhaps we can argue that priests and bishops have an even greater obligation to defend themselves because of the shortage of priests and bishops… well… maybe not so much bishops.  No priests, no sacraments.  This may be a huge issue in the case of a catastrophic collapse of the world as we know it.

Seriously, there are arguments on both sides.

Finally, maybe it would be a good idea for all priest and bishops to obtain concealed carry weapon licenses.  The screwballs who have it in mind to threaten or attack a priests – and who perhaps send priests ugly mail including photos of their houses – can then wonder whether Father is armed today or not.

 

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58 Responses to QUAERITUR: Are priests allowed to carry handguns?

  1. moon1234 says:

    While maybe not the norm in Boston, large wild animals, who have no real drive to do humans any kind of harm out of malice, do at times threaten to kill or seriously harm people. Having the ability to defend ones self from ANY threat is nothing bad. Just because you have a handgun on your person does NOT mean you will necessarily use it against another person, even if they are threatening you.

  2. Titus says:

    Some of the confusion here may stem from the pre-code prohibitions on clerics carrying swords. But those statutes were repealed by the promulgation of the codes of canon law, no? So Father is right: absent a subsequent re-enactment of which I’m not aware (not that my awareness if proof of much), there’s no rule against a cleric carrying a firearm.

  3. Fr. B says:

    Fr. Z wrote: “Finally, maybe it would be a good idea for all priest and bishops to obtain concealed carry weapon licenses. The screwball who have it in mind to threaten or attack a priests – and who perhaps send priests ugly mail including photos of their houses – can then wonder whether Father is armed today or not.”

    Good idea. Deterrence works.

  4. Ralph says:

    Finally, maybe it would be a good idea for all priest and bishops to obtain concealed carry weapon licenses. The screwball who have it in mind to threaten or attack a priests – and who perhaps send priests ugly mail including photos of their houses – can then wonder whether Father is armed today or not.

    This is, in my opinion, a wise idea. I personally know of a priest in a neighboring parish who was beaten so severely he was hospitalized when he opened the rectory door to a man seeking to “make a confession.” Our own parish has had a Mass disrupted by satanists who rushed the alter and overturned the lectern. Our pastor has had death threats. One was taken so seriously by the diocese that he had an off duty police guard for a time when he served Mass.

    These are only the events that I am aware of. I suspect every priest knows of many other instances of assault on brother priests or even themselves.

    But I think it is the nature of priests not to complain or draw attention to such problems so we laity may never know how bad it might really be for our good priests.

  5. AGA says:

    I think that in most states, private citizens, even with concealed carry permits, cannot bring firearms into a place of worship. [Not really, no. It depends on the state laws and which churches (all Mormon places in Utah, but not others, for example) and whether churches post signs.]

    This raises an interesting point, however. Should a rector be denied the ability to protect his own church?

    “And the Levites shall compass the king round
    about, every man with his weapons in his hand; and whosoever [else]
    cometh into the house, he shall be put to death: but be ye with the
    king when he cometh in, and when he goeth out.”

  6. Moro says:

    I’m not a priest but I support the idea. I think early objections about priests owning guns had to do with them serving in the role of a military combatant, which I’m pretty sure is still prohibited. What Fr. Z proposes is completely different and is all about self defense. I full support priests owning guns for such a purpose.

    But there are other good reasons for priest to own guns, including for use in hunting. I know a Jesuit who enjoyed duck and goose hunting with donors to my high school.

  7. Tom A. says:

    Well there’s always the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. Perhaps Father should consult the Book of Armaments.

  8. govmatt says:

    I certainly can see the valid arguments on both sides. While I see no problem with a Priest packing some holy heat around town, the idea of Father Quickdraw gunning down even “wolves” in the presence of Christ seems… at least a bit… counter-intuitive.

    Knowing myself, and not being as stalwart as Archbishop Léonard, a “Femen” attack might provoke me into a bit more than silent prayer. Darkly joking aside, we can reasonably imagine groups with perverse, and frankly evil, intent goading Fr. Quickdraw to open up just once. Imagine the headlines.

  9. ghp95134 says:

    The below quotes are by a US Army chaplain, serving in ‘Stan, who also has a CCW. Read his entire (and loooong) article at:
    http://chaplainsreadinglounge.blogspot.com/2012/01/chaplain-why-cant-chaplains-carry-guns.html
    ===
    “Chaplain, how come chaplains don’t carry guns?” Came the startling question over the intercom. …“I’ve always wondered why chaplains don’t carry at least a pistol for self defense. Is it a religious thing or an Army thing?” He asked again. I’d say it’s not either or but both and. I guess for some it’s a religious thing but there’s also an Army Reg that prohibits those of us who would from carrying as well.

    Army Regulation 165-1 identifies chaplains as noncombatants and states that “chaplains will not bear arms in combat or in unit combat skills training.”
    ——-
    There’s a lot more.

    –Guy

  10. Simon_GNR says:

    Should priests carry hand guns? It’s a bit difficult to think of this in a country (England) where basically no-one is allowed to own or carry a pistol and even the police are generally unarmed!! Only the villans carry firearms!
    But, in a country like the USA where concealed guns can be legally carried in many states, it seems to me to be OK for priests to be allowed to do so. As for carrying a gun under Mass vestments, why not? It may be necessary to use a gun in self defence or the defence of the congregation if an armed terrorist got into a church during Mass and started shooting.

  11. priests wife says:

    this might be an old canon or maybe a Byzantine thing..or just my imagination- but I thought that priests can’t hunt (warm blood reason?) but they can fish…so maybe they shouldn’t handle guns? (I’m just glad my husband doesn’t hunt…I’m one of those ‘I don’t like guns people’)- but my argument has no weight at all- my husband always gets 100% when he qualifies with the automatic rifle for his police chaplain work- they don’t carry, but they are qualified to use the extra arms in the police car when they ride along. If he ends up using it, things have gone really badly…

  12. Cantor says:

    It would be ill-advised for a priest to be armed during Mass, though on his own time it would be up to him. If the threat level is high enough that the priest has concerns for the safety of the congregants, there are legitimate security measures that can and should be implemented, such as:

    – consult with diocesan officials before anything else.
    – contact local law enforcement to work out an emergency action plan.
    – lock all access doors except one main entrance. (Crash bars still provide fire escape.)
    – train and, if needed, arm one or more ushers. They are freer to keep an eye on things.
    – hire off-duty law enforcement officers as needed to support you.

    Amusing as the thought might be, we don’t need Fr. Dirty Harry. Even less do we need a couple of dead altar boys caught in the crossfire.

  13. Jack says:

    In the US Naval Services (Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard), Chaplains are never armed even in combat zones. BUT…They are provided with a enlisted Religious Programs Specialist (RP) who assists with paperwork, logistics, etc., and is specially trained to provide Protective Service (bodyguard) support to the Chaplain. Rule #1: Don’t loose the Sky Pilot!

    Maybe what we need to do is adopt a version of that locally. Men, like myself, that serve at daily Mass, and have had significant firearms training in the military and law enforcement, could fill the role. After all, the Holy Father has the Swiss Guard.

  14. AV8R61 says:

    Might be better to recruit some parishioners who have the license to carry for Masses, to deal with incidents like that in Utah. In the Extraordinary Form, Father will not even be able to see a developing threat. I carry almost everywhere it is legal to do so. I had not typically carried to Mass, but since Newtown, and now this UT incident, I do. I do like to sit more toward the front, but tactically I am rethinking that because near the front you only can see a limited amount of the Church, unless you are constantly turning around at the least unusual sound.

  15. tjg says:

    “The screwball who have it in mind to threaten or attack a priests – and who perhaps send priests ugly mail including photos of their houses – can then wonder whether Father is armed today or not.”

    In today’s society, I think this is a very good idea. With the church shooting in Utah and the school attacks, clearly no one is immune anymore.

  16. Priam1184 says:

    @tjg “clearly no one is immune anymore.” No one has ever been immune tjg. There has been evil in every time and place. I don’t know about guns in a church, the idea of priests being armed saying Mass just doesn’t feel right to me. I know that there have been military orders throughout the history of the Church, but look at how much success those orders ultimately had: despite the Crusades the Middle East is still almost entirely Muslim with a Christian population now dwindling by the day. The weapons Our Lord gave us were not guns and knives. And, Luke’s account of the Last Supper (one of the most mystifying in the entire New Testament to me personally) aside, those are the weapons He employed throughout His time on earth and the example He gave us.

  17. Liz2257 says:

    Fr. Z wrote: “Finally, maybe it would be a good idea for all priest and bishops to obtain concealed carry weapon licenses. The screwball who have it in mind to threaten or attack a priests – and who perhaps send priests ugly mail including photos of their houses – can then wonder whether Father is armed today or not.”

    I haven’t asked our pastor about this, but now I may — if he would choose to carry a concealed gun or would be receptive to parishioners doing so. While there have been no incidents at our parish during any Masses or other parish functions, the neighborhood surrounding it has had several drive-by shootings, one a mere half-block away from the rectory. Our pastor had grown up here in town, was away for many years, and returned a couple years ago as our pastor, and he’s mentioned several times sadly that it is a vastly different place now than the town he remembers as a boy.

  18. Sword40 says:

    I would feel very comfortable if our priest was carrying a weapon. I do ocassionally while in church.
    Of course, we just had a triple murder down the road from us. So I carry even when taking out the garbage. And I live in a rural area. I also have two big dogs on the property and gate alarms.

  19. AA Cunningham says:

    Cantor says:
    21 June 2013 at 1:07 pm

    – train and, if needed, arm one or more ushers. They are freer to keep an eye on things.

    A good option but make sure the rector isn’t one who is going to throw you under the bus if the defecation hits the oscillation.

  20. jenne says:

    When I was a nurse in AF we had to train for the 9Mil but we only carried depending on the area of duty. So only in instances of active fighting where we had the duty to protect the patients. I think when major surgery is happening during conflict you have to press on with the surgery.
    When you have Mass I would be loathe to have a priest stop when others should be doing defence. Let others do the work of defending the most holiest time on earth. If indeed things are getting fierce, I am in agreement that there needs to be a framework of some sort to be sure Mass is provided with security. But let it not be the priest while at Mass. Outside of Mass perhaps.

    Finally, I can’t see him in persona Christi if I know he is packing heat while bringing me the sacrament that allows me to die for the other without calculating cost to self.

    Thank you for making me think on this. I will be looking to get licensed for a weapon when I can. It has been many years.

    JennE

  21. SpesUnica says:

    I am extremely uncomfortable with the idea of priests carrying a handgun at all, and am completely opposed to his having a weapon while saying Mass. We could bicker about “what about a pocketknife!?” but that is primarily a TOOL which can be used as a weapon. Perhaps then you’ll tell me that a firearm IS a tool. True, but its a weapon first. A pocketknife is a tool which can be used as a weapon–so is a screwdriver. A gun is a weapon that can be used as a tool. I am a gun rights supporter, I grew up with guns and own a couple myself. I would NEVER carry one on a daily basis and I am troubled by the idea of a priest having one on his person while saying Mass.

    Christians had to quit the military to be able to be baptized in the early centuries. I can’t imagine what the martyrs would tell us today if they could be a part of this conversation. They begged to not be deprived of their chance to witness to God’s love the same way Christ did, by shedding his Blood. Someone murders a priest because he is a priest? Hello, newest martyr. Someone threatens his congregation? Ever hear of those folks “and companions?” Who said, “vengeance is mine”? Its not that I don’t believe in self-defense or protecting ones family, but if you are being killed because of your faith, smile and give thanks to God for the chance to witness to the Power that overcomes the powers of this world.

    When I celebrate Mass, unworthy though I am to be a priest, I take off all my jewelry (class ring, “vows” ring, symbol of my order, watch) and leave my keys and phone in the sacristy. I just can’t imagine keeping a piece on me at the altar. Jesus was stripped of all worldly protection of dignity, the New Adam naked on the new Tree of Life. The priests’ vestments represent, in manifold ways, the dignity of the High Priest. Nothing fake or artificial or sullied is allowed into the sanctuary, and I can imagine “vesting prayers” appropriate to every item I have on my person when I enter into it. I just can’t see a firearm in that line up…the priest is in the person of the Victim, the Lamb who cries not out.

    I don’t disagree with many of the posts here, usually, but I really, really don’t see this one, for my part.

  22. dcs says:

    For what it is worth, Fr. Fortescue wrote in correspondence of having shot and killed a man in self-defense. That was on an expedition, though, not in the sanctuary of a parish church.

  23. Imrahil says:

    Well, you can count me among the “But Father” types.

    Reasons: St. Thomas, S. th. II/II 64 IV and Supp. 39 IV. (Not the canon law presented there, which has been laxed, but the reasonings.)

    You might, of course, post gunmen at either side of the altar (in respectful distance) to keep watch.

    But a celebrant priest should bear no weapon. Let’s not get overprecise as to what constitutes a weapon (firearms and pepperspray certainly are), but if it is one, if it is intended to be one, he should not wear it.

  24. wolfeken says:

    Carrying during the Mass of the Catechumens would be different from the Mass of the Faithful for a celebrant. Don’t forget many states have carry concealed laws on consuming alcohol while packing (with some states leaving open the definition of under-the-influence). Wine on the breath of someone who just fired a few rounds for self defense is never a good thing for a trial.

  25. mcferran says:

    WWJD? What would Jesus do? Surely he is the pattern for our lives. If you really think that Jesus would carry a concealed handgun and then use it if he or one of his disciples were attacked, then I suppose it makes sense that a priest – even when acting in persona Christi at Mass – might also carry a concealed handgun and use if he or one of his flock were attacked. If, on the other hand, you don’t think that Jesus would carry a concealed handgun and use it, then ….

  26. acardnal says:

    Of course, let’s remember that Jesus, the Lord, did get angry with the merchants and money changers in the Temple, His Father’s House….turning over their tables and chairs and causing disruption, driving them out. One can imagine some pushing, shoving and fists flying, and the chance of knives and clubs being drawn. Who knows what else happened that wasn’t recorded.

    Mt 21:12-13
    12 And Jesus entered the temple of God[a] and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you make it a den of robbers.”

  27. Suburbanbanshee says:

    From A Short History of Canon Law:

    “The right to bear arms is another illustration of the canonists’ creative jurisprudence. At the end of the eleventh century the church had moved broadly to forbid clerics from carrying arms. A canon from the Council of Poitiers in 1079 banning clergy from bearing arms became part of the normative law of the church by the late twelfth century. But, from the beginning, the absolute interdiction of clerical arms was tempered by the canonists’ notions of rights. They immediately interpreted the canon as excepting a cleric’s right to self-defense. Between the thirteenth and the seventeenth centuries, the jurists distinguished between offensive and defensive weapons, dangerous and safe places, and a cleric’s and a layman’s right to defend himself. Emanuel Gonzalez Tellez wrote that natural reason permits people to defend themselves from danger. This right, he stated, has been established from nature. Consequently Tellez expanded the right to bear arms considerably. He argued that clerics can defend themselves, and they can also take up arms to defend their homeland.”

  28. acardnal says:

    dcs, that is an interesting anecdote. Do you have a citation? I would enjoy learning more about Fr. Fortescue’s experience.

  29. EXCHIEF says:

    mcferran
    Unlike Christ, who performed miracles and, thus, had no need for any type of weapon, Priests are like anyone else when it comes to self defense or defense of others. If I were a Priest and knew that at every Mass I would have in the congregation armed and well trained parishioners I would not CCW during Mass. The only way to do so would be an ankle holster and they are not the greatest.

    If I, on the other hand, did not have the assurance that there were other Sheepdogs in the congregation to care for the flock if need be I would carry in a heartbeat—but no one would ever know it unless the bad stuff hit the fan.

  30. Maltese says:

    Of course a priest or Bishop should carry a gun in places such as the Burroughs of Baltimore or Philadelphia, so long as they have a CCP (don’t know if those cities do). Things are only going to get worse, folks.

    I’ve said this a couple of times here, but I’m a big proponent of the Ruger LCP, and Uncle George’s holster (and, no, I have connection to either company–it’s just the slightest, lightest .380 on earth). The LCP in Uncle George’s wallet holster are indistinguishable from a wallet.

    http://www.unclegeorgeswalletholsters.com/Pages/default.aspx

  31. HeatherH. says:

    Hmmm… Thinking to the movie, FOR GREATER GLORY, there is an argument that priests ought not bear arms. If I remember right, an older priest brings this up to a younger priest who is going to fight. I don’t know about it, but the thought of a priest carrying a gun at mass makes me uncomfortable. Yes, self defense is legitimate, but what about if a corrupt priest got his hands on a gun? Not saying that would happen, but the people I feel safest around are priests, seminarians, and religious. So I feel uncomfortable with this. Maybe you could have it outside mass, but not in mass. In any case, churches are supposed to be places of refuge, not violence; so if a priest carried a gun in the church, it would seem contradictory to the sanctuary the church has offered through the centuries.

  32. Andy Lucy says:

    …churches are supposed to be places of refuge, not violence…

    Heather, it is only a “sanctuary” if all parties agree on it actually being a “sanctuary.” If just one does not agree, your “sanctuary” becomes a “killing house.” As for me and mine, we carry everywhere… yes, at Mass, as well. And you’d never know it, unless a situation arose that would necessitate drawing weapons and deploying them (If I have to draw my weapon, it has reached the point where it will need to be used. I don’t draw just to scare people). After which, you could chastise me all you want for violating a “sanctuary”… but you have to be alive to do that.

  33. msokeefe says:

    Better to have one and not need it. As a PO in NYC I was involved in a shooting. It is rare in NYC as only 2% of the cops ever get involved in shootings. If you do use a weapon, be prepared to feel horrible about using deadly physical force for the rest of your life. Here is an unfortunate prime example why it is good to have a weapon in Church.

    http://www.standard.net/stories/2013/06/20/suspects-motivation-unknown-fathers-day-shooting-catholic-church

  34. bourgja says:

    I can’t believe that anyone would support the idea of a priest carrying a gun during the celebration of Mass. Canon law does forbid priests from engaging in activities foreign to their state, and traditional interpretations have included such things as butchery and hunting. More to the point, it is difficult to imagine Jesus using a weapon to harm anyone, even if justified, and we have his admonition in the Garden not to use the sword, even for the good purpose of protecting him. It is eminently fitting for priests who act “in persona Christi” to follow this example.

  35. RichardT says:

    Guarding the church during Mass was the sub-deacon’s job (Apostolic Constitutions, 4th century).

    The sub-deacon’s duties are now transferred to instituted lay ministers by Ministeria Quaedam, so this would now be part of the acolyte’s role.

    Giving the role originally to the sub-deacon suggests that such matters should not be allowed to distract the priest from his vital service at the altar. Since we no longer have sub-deacons (outside the traditional institutes) and few parishes even have deacons, it therefore makes sense for these duties to pass downwards to the laity rather than upwards to the priest.

    But Ministeria Quaedam invites the national Conference of Bishops to petition the Holy See to institute additional lay ministries for the local church. I therefore suggest a request for the revival of the Porter for the USA, with the additional sub-deacon’s duty of protecting the church and congregation during Mass (perhaps with the requirement that all Porters should have had a period of service in the military or law enforcement).

  36. ghp95134 says:

    @bourgja: “…it is difficult to imagine Jesus using a weapon to harm anyone, even if justified, and we have his admonition in the Garden not to use the sword, even for the good purpose of protecting him….”

    The difference being that in the Garden, the authorities were arresting Jesus … executing a warrant. If brigands attacked our Lord along His journeys, I would think His PSD (Personal Security Detail) would have counter-attacked using deadly force.

    –Guy Power

  37. PhilipNeri says:

    Once–while living in the UK–I was asked in a group of international friars if I had ever used a gun. I said that I had grown up with a house full of guns. My father was a game warden. One friar asked if I would ever actually shoot another person. I said that it would depend on the circumstances. If someone came into my home and threatened my family, I would shoot w/o hesitation or remorse. The good friars stared at me in horror for a few seconds and changed the subject. All I could think at the time: “These guys must think I’m a cowboy!” Wrong. Mississippi farm boy here. . .with very good aim.

    Fr. Philip Neri, OP

  38. TopSully says:

    I agree with SpesUnica on the topic of Father carrying while celebrating Mass, however I support Father, and all other properly prepared and trained citizens carrying at any other time. I’m squishy on the topic of a congregant carrying into church. I carry at least one gun with me everywhere except to church. I don’t even have one in my car in the church parking lot. It just doesn’t fell right to me. Parishes in dangerous neighborhoods or who have other concerns should probably have some sort of armed guard, either discreetly or boldly obvious depending on the situation. I love the idea of the Bishop making a public announcement encouraging all of the priests in the diocese to obtain a carry permit.

  39. Dienekes says:

    I too think that a celebrant packing a firearm is somehow rather inappropriate, and also at considerable disadvantage in responding to a situation should one occur anyway. Having been an LEO and firearms trainer for many years, I would much rather have a core group of qualified volunteers willing and able to deal with a serious incident. By “qualified” I mean current and retired LEOs and military, and very proficient civilian shooters. That was essentially what the megachurch in Colorado Springs had a few years ago and when the crunch came it worked well. Lives were saved.

    Unfortunately most parishes are in a state of denial about predators and evil coming inside; “We’re NICE people, and besides, it can’t happen here”. Good luck with that.

    For my part I have “carried” all my adult life and in retirement still do. I believe I have a moral obligation to protect others if I can (the “sheepdog” syndrome) and will do so if I have to. Not everyone agrees with that, and until there is an honest discussion of the matter, I do what I think is right under the circumstances. I suppose you could call it a case of subsidiarity.

  40. Maria Regina Cordium Omnium Est says:

    I hope that this may serve to shed light:

    “On the contrary, It was said to Peter as representing bishops and clerics (Matthew 16:52): “Put up again thy sword into the scabbard [Vulgate: 'its place'] ["Scabbard" is the reading in John 18:11."] Therefore it is not lawful for them to fight.” [Summa Theologica - Secunda Secundae Q 40, A 2]

    In addition, the Fourth Lateran Council stated: “No cleric may decree or pronounce a sentence involving the shedding of blood, or carry out a punishment involving the same, or be present when such punishment is carried out…A cleric may not write or dictate letters which require punishments involving the shedding of blood, in the courts of princes this responsibility should be entrusted to laymen and not to clerics. Moreover no cleric may be put in command of mercenaries or crossbowmen or suchlike men of blood; nor may a subdeacon, deacon or priest practise the art of surgery, which involves cauterizing and making incisions; nor may anyone confer a rite of blessing or consecration on a purgation by ordeal of boiling or cold water or of the red-hot iron, saving nevertheless the previously promulgated prohibitions regarding single combats and duels.”

  41. Stephen Matthew says:

    I am supportive of priests carrying for self-defense, but I am opposed to the priest or any cleric arming themselves during, or making use of arms during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The priest is acting in persona Christi capitas during the divine liturgy, and thus all of his actions and attitudes should conform as closely as possible to Christ in that event, and also should be such as to witness to the Gospel of Jesus most clearly. I think if armed security is necessary, it is more in keeping with the duties, obligations, rights, and responsibilities of the lay faithful to provide for it during a public celebration of the Eucharist. If it is not possible for the sword to be left at the outer door, at least let the sword be left at the gate to the sanctuary, the new Holy of Holies.

  42. Maltese says:

    Stephen–the first Apostles carried sharp daggers…

  43. Imrahil says:

    Rev’d dear @Philipp Neri,

    you do know the interesting ways our beloved modernity has got used to take in thinking?

    “I shoot for defence, without hesitation, without remorse” is a logical, sound position. It is your position, in theory it would be my position. “I philosophically reject any violence, under any circumstance whatsoever” is a logical, even if not common-sense position. It is the position of the pacifist, which can be respected, though any try to agree without will just not work.

    The modern man, as usual, is a sentimentalist. He says, if he is among the more brave types, “I’d shoot first and repent afterwards. All those people who do not shoot are cowards; all those people who do not repent of their deed afterwards – come on! I actually shot a man dead – are psychopaths.” Only he’d probably formulate that with less clarity than I used just now (forgive the immodesty). Otherwise, he says: “shooting? shooting? how horrible is this?” – “so you mean that it is always wrong to shoot an aggressor?” – “Leave me alone with the question!!”

    If shooting is right, then it must be done without hesitation before it and without remorse afterwards.

    I agree with that; only I would not shoot myself, first because I have no weapon, second because I would not trust my marksmanship (especially in the situation).

  44. Imrahil says:

    (With “you do no” I only used a way to excuse myself for giving a musing of my own. I did not intend to imply that you didn’t.)

  45. Arele says:

    I would certainly feel safer and more secure if I knew that my priest was carrying concealed during mass. (However, it’s best if we all don’t know exactly who is and who is not carrying concealed. That is the real deterrent.)

    I wouldn’t want to be the only one prepared in case of a shooting, nor the only one to take the heat (no pun intended) should tragedy hit. What a wonderful and fitting example if priests, as leaders, also took on the responsibility and leadership of self (and other) defense!

    As a rape victim who is lucky to be alive, I felt in my time of helplessness, a profound guilt before God that I had not protected the life that God had given me – I had been careless, and almost lost that life. I now have my concealed carry permit and regularly train. It’s part of my amends to myself and to God.

    What I learned is that the duty to self protection cannot be abdicated nor shifted to someone else, even police, because when seconds count, police are minutes (or more) away. And once you have children, you are duty bound to protect them as well, just as it says in Canon law.

    As a priest, we call you Father, and we are your spiritual children. I would hope that you would feel duty bound to protect our lives as well.

    Please, please, please do join your silent parishioners who already quietly take on this responsibility, and do not abdicate your role as protector and defender of innocent life!

    Thank you for this dialogue!

  46. mightyduk says:

    Army Regulation 165-1 identifies chaplains as noncombatants and states that “chaplains will not bear arms in combat or in unit combat skills training.”

    This is reference to the laws of war specifically regarding noncombatants, it says nothing of them carrying outside of combat or combat training.

    I think a distinction needs to be made between priests as “soldiers” or “partisans”, and a priest using a weapon under extraordinary situations where the innocent would be killed if they do not act. Christ did protect his Apostles and Disciples from being attacked (until it was time), but he did not need a handgun to do so.

  47. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Maria Regina Cordium Omnium Est —

    That was the Fourth Lateran Council. Now there are plenty of priests who are also doctors and surgeons, or there used to be when we had more orders of medical missionaries. And as my earlier quote from canon law history said, canonists always assumed that priests were allowed armed self-defense, as well as many other rights of bearing arms which were figured out as they went along. It’s not an open-and-shut topic.

  48. bourgja says:

    ghp95134 said: “If brigands attacked our Lord along His journeys, I would think His PSD (Personal Security Detail) would have counter-attacked using deadly force.”

    Although I think this statement is laughably anachronistic, by your analogy it might be fitting to designate others (such as ushers or the former role of “porters”) to carry weapons necessary to protect the faithful from an attack during Mass. Again though, according to a traditional reading of canon 285 it would be most unfitting for a priest to do so.

  49. Maria Regina Cordium Omnium Est says:

    @ Suburbanbanshee

    Thanks for sharing the comment about Tellez. I didn’t see that beforehand. I posted mostly with reference to priests and the shedding of blood, in fights. Admittedly, I have to study modern canonists, more in depth. Yet, a question follows, since we do not only have to be concerned with what is lawful. We can also ask: what is more perfect?
    Based on my limited knowledge, one can rarely go wrong with following the Angelic Doctor, when it comes to moral theology. There is something quite special when a priest seeks to conform himself to the life of Christ (who allowed Himself to be captured by evil men).
    Furthermore, I am studying for the priesthood. In a state of emergency (i.e. during a violent revolution), I would take means to travel stealthily (so as to help the faithful, if I was a priest). Yet, it would be acceptable if I refrained from shedding blood.
    God does not need me. If I am captured by evil men, after attempting other lawful means to avoid this scenario, perhaps the blood which I may shed, will serve to call someone greater than I, to the priesthood?

    Cura ut valeas. :)

  50. Giuseppe says:

    Popes should not use swords.

    John 18: 10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) 11 Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

  51. John Nolan says:

    The Bayeux Tapestry shows Bishop Odo, half-brother to the Conqueror, wielding a large club or mace (BACVLV[M] TENENS) at the Battle of Hastings. Most commentators point out that he did not carry a sword since churchmen were forbidden to shed blood. However, since ‘baculus’ also means a bishop’s staff he could have been smiting the Saxons with his crozier. I must confess I have a sneaking admiration for the warrior-pope Julius II, fighting for the integrity of the Papal States and thus the independence of the Church in the early 16th century. In England the only people who go around ‘tooled up’ are inner-city black gangsters and (increasingly) the police; both have a tendency to shoot the wrong people. However, if I lived in the USA I would happily carry a pistol at a TLM, but would not trust myself to do so at a Novus Ordo Mass. “That’s one liturgical abuse too many, Father (BANG!). Pick up that guitar and I’ll shoot! Get your hands of that ciborium, you wretched woman, or you’re dead meat! ” I could easily become a serial killer.

  52. jeffreyquick says:

    Giuseppe: Popes should not USE swords but should CARRY them. Emit gladius!
    St. Gabriel Possenti, pray for us!

  53. Dorset Rambler says:

    Just what is it about Americans and guns?

    I worked in the US for a while and met many wonderful people. It’s a country I would very much like to like.

    But the violence of your relationships, culture and foreign policy is truly scary.

    It’s sad more than I can express Fr Z that you appear so ambivalent about priests carrying guns.

  54. dominicop says:

    I have a related question: What about hand-to-hand combat? I tend to err on the side of priests not carrying, at least in normal circumstances. I don’t have a problem with priests owning and using guns for hunting and such. I grew up in Iowa and outside of Des Moines most of the priests had hunting rifles and/or shotguns, not only for actual hunting but also for protection from “varmints” (many also had large dogs). I wonder, though, if the gun question looks different with respect to religious. First I have a question about poverty. If it is permissible for brother to carry in a given area then could we argue that the community has an obligation to arm and train all of the brethren? That seems not quite right. Then there’s the whole symbolic disconnect; walking eschatalogical signs holding firearms seems discordant some how. But I had an experience once that made me think of the physical altercation question more. I was hearing confessions in a “Reconciliation Room” with a grill set up for those who wished to use it. While I was giving counsel a penitent got very upset with me and started to pound on his side of the grill. Then he started to shake the thing and the top portion actually started to crack. I threw him out, but before I did I was eyeing the room trying to determine if I ran if I could get past him and to the door before he could catch me. A number of questions came to mind:

    1) What is the appropriate response to a penitent who threatens the priest?
    2) Would I have been violating the anonymity of the penitent by running to the other side of the grill, not to deliberately expose him but to get away from him? The commotion would undoubtedly raise the other parishoners. Would this “out” him?
    3) What would appropriate defense be in such a situation? If I had a gun and I shot him could I reasonably expect people to come back to my confessional?
    4) If I hit him would I be acting against what the confessional itself stands for?
    5) Would it be permissible to engage him physically but only in the defensive position?
    6) Would it be more seemly or fitting to simply accept the attack to come? Which would witness better to the gospel: appropriate self-defense or active non-resistance?

    I ask these questions mindful of an internal tension. That classic scene from Boys Town where Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan punches the mobster had a huge influence on my vocation. At the same time, as a priest and religious I have been physically attacked twice, both of which sent me to the hospital. I genuinely did not and do not believe that physical violence was a viable option in those scenarios. What role does prudence play in determining such a decision?

    I am especially looking for some counsel from my brother priests on this matter.

  55. John Nolan says:

    As far as legal ownership and carrying of firearms is concerned, America is at one extreme and England at another. A lot of people forget that until the 1920s there was no gun control in the UK. In the 1950s there were a lot of guns in circulation but criminals understood that if they killed with a firearm they had little chance of a reprieve. We’re not talking of years on death row and endless appeals, either; three weeks after sentence Albert Pierrepoint or one of his colleagues would have entered your cell at 8 or 9 a.m. and within as little as a minute you would have been expeditiously, humanely and efficiently hanged.

  56. kmcgrathop says:

    I think the scandal of a priest accidentally shooting someone with a handgun or (God forbid) committing suicide with one are reasons enough for priests not to possess them. Both these scenarios are far, far more likely than that of a shooter entering a church.

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  58. Flatuslatinus says:

    When I read the headline, my first reaction was “Allowed by whom?”. Secular law clearly does not exclude priests from owning or carrying firearms. Canon law, however, might be quite another kettle of fish. When possession of weapons denoted a certain social status (sword = warrior => gentleman), priests were forbidden from wearing them. [So, if they are concealed, that is not an obstacle.] Hunting apparatus was, however, never forbidden for priests, at least, as long as hunting was not carried to excess, and I know several priests who like to go hunting. In history, there are examples of priests carrying arms and fighting to defend other people – we had examples of that during the wars against the Turk. However, this was during states of emergency, not in normal times. During the latter, the old saying “Ecclesia non sitit sanguinem” (the Church does not shed blood) ["thirst", not "shed"] held sway: Priests were bound by several obligations of the clergy (like celibacy, praying the breviary, not wearing beards or not carrying weapons). Current canon law has not enacted the old “defectus lenitatis” in all its pre-Code glory; having shed blood, however, is still not something people expect from a priest. So, even although the US constitution elevates the right to carry firearms to near ridiculous heights, [?] I hold that priests should abstain from carrying handguns, unless there is an urgent and generally recognized reason to the contrary. [Who decides that?] I do not know whether ministering in a dangerous area would constitute such a reason – methinks that carry a pistol there would just raise the probability of getting mugged (possibly from behind, so that the perpetrator runs no unnecessary risks himself). [?!?]