ASK FATHER: Priest received threat of violence

digital_thumbprintFrom a priest…

QUAERITUR:

Greetings!  You have mentioned on your blog a few times that you sometimes receive threats.  I received one today.  On the advise of my lawyer I reported it to the authorities.  Do you have any insight or advise on what else I should do?  Is there an easy way to get an ip address or some other information as to where it may have come from?

[…]

The priest in question, in a follow up wrote that the threatener also sent a video clip of an extremely violent scene from a movie.  He wrote:

The message was very clear, very violent, and very graphic.  The Sheriff was taken aback by it and is handing it over to the Department of Criminal Investigation yet today.

This comes up from time to time.  Fathers, we have to think about these things.

Just over a year ago, Fr. Hamel was slain, out of hatred for the Faith, in France.  Just the other day a priest in Mexico was stabbed in the neck by a nut job and later died.  Priests are targets.   In January a bishop was attacked during Mass in Newark.

In the last two weeks I have spoken with several priests who have been harassed or threatened by people who are somewhat deranged and who (probably) go on and off their meds.

Father, you did the right thing to report this to your lawyer and law enforcement.  If you get something that strikes you as being out of the ordinary, it is better to be safe than sorry.  Tell someone.

Also, I save copies of everything, all the harassing notes, nastygrams, and threats.  Eventually these nitwits – who are often also perverts – make a mistake.  They think they are pretty smart.  Eventually they screw up.

Yes, there are, in general, ways to find an IP address in the header of an email.  IP addresses are starting points.   Sometimes these people use a VPN to “hide” and be anonymous.  That complicates the situation a little.  Masking your IP and location with a VPN or other only goes so far.  You are being logged, no question, and law enforcement can find you.

Another issue to consider is safety, for yourselves and for your parishioners.  I warmly recommend, Fathers, taking classes for a concealed carry license and obtaining one.  Even if you choose to not carry, your would be attacker won’t know that.  And the training is useful in many ways.

At the conclusion of the Last Supper, in Luke 22 Our Lord said something pertinent to the question:

36 He said to them, “But now, let him who has a purse take it, and likewise a bag. And let him who has no sword [máchaira] sell his mantle and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was reckoned with transgressors’; for what is written about me has its fulfilment.” 38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” 

Not long after, He told Peter not to use the sword that he had.  So, it is hard to know what the High Priest meant about his Apostles buying and having swords on the very threshold of His Passion.

For my part, I have a “sword”.

Also, make sure that your rectories are secured.

Moreover, talk to any LEOs in your parish about security for your church.  Just recently where I am a parish had an “active shooter” workshop.  That could be a good idea.

In addition, Fathers, make sure you know whom to contact in the case of a real threat.  Along with consulting your lawyer, you should look online for a contact number or name in your local sheriff’s and/or police department for reporting threats.  I, for example, have bookmarked a specific page and I have also reached out and established contact with the captain of the local police precinct in my part of town.  If something big comes up, I will know precisely whom to contact.

Keep your head on a swivel.  Practice good situational awareness.

I believe that we will soon see an increase in threats and violent attacks on church property and on priests and, God forbid, even congregations.  The rise of violent Islam, militant homosexualists, and idiotic young anarchists must be a concern for which we should plan.

If you preach the truth with clarity and fidelity to the Church’s teachings, no matter how charitable or kind you are, you are going to be attacked.  I think that attacks will rise as things get dumber and weirder more more carnal.  And there are always going to be deranged people.  This too will probably worse as the drug problem worsens.

The moderation queue is ON.  I’ll be selective.

 

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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35 Responses to ASK FATHER: Priest received threat of violence

  1. Father,
    Wise and safe advice. As a single woman I have lived in both NYC and Washington DC ( right in the District) and I have ALWAYS CARRIED. Gratefully DC finally must recognize the 2A rights of law-abiding citizens.
    I am now again, legally able to conceal carry and at times OPEN CARRY ( a deterrent to criminals) along with my former Jersey attitude. Wisconsin is reasonably safe but we have seen an uptick now in shootings in Madison . I was taught by a LEO an old saying : ” Better to be tried by 12 than carried by 6. ” He was right.
    Given that, I target practice to stay sharp and I try to stay out of volatile situations. I also respect the seriousness of carrying .
    Keeping sober watch, and remembering that CHANCE favors the prepared mind, I agree that with the coming onslaught that we MUST BE READY to LOCK AND LOAD.
    Btw, it doesn’t hurt having a family member in the Marine Corps who is a great shot who helps with advice when home on leave. ;) RAH!

  2. QuietContemplative says:

    In Texas, last year, there was quite the “to-do” over dioceses telling local parishes to post signs describing Texas penal codes in relation to carrying a concealed weapon on the premises. This covers firearms and even the recently cleared for open carry knives/swords/spears. This is basically posting that no law abiding citizen there will have a means of lethal defense. This is a pretty strange state of affairs considering we’re talking about Texas. Outside of lobbying state legislature, what do you recommend? I have no interest in violating state law, but nor do I want to see my local parish or any that I visit, be open to potential violence.

  3. aliceinstpaul says:

    I’d like to expand on your comment about asking LEOs about security for your church.

    It’s not just about securing the rectory. It’s about everyone.

    Think through the kids at choir practice or faith formation-what if someone comes to threaten them? Grab them? Who is with them? Only women? Women with other children at the time? Any men? How could a woman at choir get help when she is with multiple kids that she can’t leave? Are kids dismissed without supervision? Can that be changed?

    How about adult staffers and workers? How could they signal for help? How often is the Church unoccupied? How often are adult events like prayer group and circles in parts of buildings that lack security or phones or emergency lighting?

    When’s the last time the locks or key codes were changed? Who’s checking if people have walked around deserted parts of the Church building or campus?

    Ask some law enforcement personnel to help make written plans for these situations and threats. Every staff member needs this knowledge and so do your parishioners! Everyone needs to know the plan. Everyone at a work place or school (and home, right?) has a fire drill. So should the church during mass, the catechism class, the choir, the Bible study.

  4. Amerikaner says:

    Another example is the unfortunate death of Fr. Kenneth Walker, FSSP back in 2014.

  5. John_by_any_other_name says:

    To add to Father Z’s points about email forensic information, some email providers hide more information than others…regardless, most popular free email provider can provide login information with an appropriate subpoena from law enforcement. This can then pivot to the internet service provider (ISP…aka cable/DSL/etc), rinsing and repeating. But all of these things should be standard practice for LEOs who work with cybercriminal cases. Also, as Father said: save everything, and if you ever need to provide an email, learn how to get email headers out of your particular client…an email without headers is like a ransom letter without the envelope.

  6. Man, is THIS post ever gonna get bookmarked, downloaded, printed off, and/or forwarded to priestly peers.

  7. Ultrarunner says:

    And yet, even in the face of these and other threats, most bishops in the US have banned Catholics who legally carry a firearm from entering church owned property. In practice, this means that those who wish to protect themselves and their family may not enter a church to receive the sacraments. Consequently, many simply respect the ban and don’t go to church.
    Law abiding citizens exercising a constitutionally protected right should not be prevented from entering a church.

  8. gracie says:

    Jesus didn’t tell Peter not to carry a sword. He said not to live by it – in other words, don’t use a sword as a way to resolve your anger with someone. Using a sword to defend yourself is a totally different kettle of fish. At the time of Christ, just getting from point A to point B could get you killed – especially in the outlying areas which were infested with bandits. (See Good Samaritan). You notice Our Lord didn’t tell Peter to get rid of the sword – in fact, He signaled Peter should keep it when He told the apostle to put it away. Nor did He freak out wondering why Peter was carrying a sword in the first place. Presumably they all carried swords – Jesus included (I know, heresy). The apostles would have understood that Christ was telling them that they had to have the ability to protect themselves in their travels. Everyone has a right to protect himself from an unprovoked attack. Even a priest. (I know, heresy again.)

  9. To add to this…while not minimizing the prudent steps our priests should take…it is also up to us laity to ensure that, properly trained and aware, we do our part to ensure our father’s safety.

    Standing there while some activist nutjob rushes the altar or threatens a priest? No, I don’t think so. It’s time we Catholic MEN take some “Growacet” and understand that an attack or assault on our spiritual fathers is also an attack on US.

    Man up, people. These things can’t happen unless the bystanders are sheeple.

  10. Liz says:

    Oh my! Priests are in our rosaries and others prayers. God be with you all!

  11. JTH says:

    Father, as a former police officer of 22 years, I would suggest quietly encouraging CCL holders in the parish to come armed to Mass, sit near the entrances at the end of the pews, and remain aware of their surroundings.

    Here locally a parish priest was attacked with a knife by an emotionally unstable man while celebrating Mass. The priest was injured but fully recovered.

    In the late 1970’s a man entered the Cathedral and began tearing the church apart (Mass was not being celebrated and was empty). He lifted the tabernacle and the pedestal it was attached to and threw it across the sanctuary. He attacked the altar and generally damaged what he could. Priests who heard the commotion and went in to investigate. It took many police officers to subdue him was the information that got around town as I recall. One officer I know who was there asked the priests if they could turn down the a/c as it was very cold inside in the Cathedral. The priests informed them the a/c wasn’t one. He learned later it was believed by the priests who witnessed the incident that the man was possessed. He believed it. He said the whole incident was just evil.

    “The readiness is all.” – Shakespeare

  12. Adeodata says:

    Property crimes and violent incidents are on the rise at churches and other religious institutions. My parish sent me to a church security training. It was definitely worthwhile, and I encourage more people to attend such workshops. I work with offenders, so I already have the background. I sit in a strategic place at Mass where I can to get Father quickly and be a protector. It is always good to be alert to anything or anyone out of the ordinary.

  13. Former Altar Boy says:

    Father, to your list (and for future reference), don’t forget Fr. Kenneth Walker, FSSP, who was shot to death in Phoenix in 2014 during a burglary and his fellow priest was wounded. Most priests are too progressive to ever defend themselves or their parishioners (recall how many times crazies have shot up places of worship) with a firearm, your advice to buy a gun and carry concealed (or at least have it handy nearby) is good. To that I would add: security cameras in and around churches and rectories, and alarmed security system for churches and rectories during hours those buildings are closed with signs announcing those protections.

  14. stephen c says:

    Excellent post, Father Zuhlsdorf: even in good times there are many just plain bad people in the world, and these are not good times. Can I add this to your good advice? – Many law enforcement bureaucrats, receiving a communication from a religious person about a perceived threat from an unhinged anti-religious bigot, will not think : hey, here is a threat to a good religious person, I need to help this religious person protect the people he is responsible for: they will think : hey here is one of those religious people who is trying to pretend that normal people who criticize religion are dangerous! Many priests are young and have not learned that law enforcement people are not always on the right side in conflicts they have not thought much about. Just saying. Government law enforcement is one tool in protecting those we love, but it is often not a useful tool, and it is sometimes downright dangerous. Almost always the police will be on your side in an emergency, but “almost always” is not the same as “always”.

  15. jflare says:

    How ironic that this should come up within days after learning that 4th Degree Knights have made changes to their uniform.
    I wonder: If the bishop bans firearms, might the men of the parish arrange for a saber or three to be kept in a discrete spot which ushers might easily reach? Especially Knights? Maybe collaborate to teach some gentlemen to use them properly.
    Perhaps not quite as effective should the situation require the use of force, granted. On the other hand, well, a drawn saber is a very noticeable object, perhaps even all the more so for being an “old-fashioned” weapon. Such would also be potentially better in terms of finding the correct target too.
    (Hey, I’ve fired pistols and rifles too, folks. It’s amazing how easily one may miss an intended target when one has begun to experience serious stress, especially when nobody expects anything violent.)

  16. Matthew says:

    Police officers have a lot of paperwork to do during their shift. They often do it in their cars (more computer work than real paper these days). Invite the police officers you know to do it in the parish parking lot. If you have a nice shady tree that is great for daytime, and a light at night is good too.

    Police like to park so no one can sneak up on them, sometimes it is in the middle of the lot, sometimes right alongside a building, each area offers some ‘best spot’ and the police are usually happy to be invited to use your lot. It increases security for the church and gives the police a welcoming place to finish their reports.

    If you’ve got a special detail directing traffic after Mass tell them about it and ask them to pass the world that you’re happy to have officers in your parking lots.

  17. MitisVis says:

    In my area the Sheriffs Dept. holds various classes on handling threat situations, awareness and security plans, etc. These seminars and classes are open to all and I would suggest pastors as well as laity contact your law enforcement and inquire what is available in your area. I would also concur that our priests are under OUR protection at mass and elsewhere. Given the present state our priests need more than a few ushers watching out for them and our families. I would also suggest anyone so compelled drive down to the Sheriffs Dept. and meet them in person. Shake a few hands and ask about their firing range. Even if you have never shot a gun and have no intention of getting one, have them show you how to fire a weapon and handle it safely. It would be of great import that every parish had a “what if” plan, however if these simple tasks could be started perhaps parishes can get to emergency planning. It will get worse and I’m afraid sooner than we expect.

  18. Fyrdman says:

    As I try to keep my lamp filled, I also keep my sword sharpened. “for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority[a] does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Romans 13:4. I am a police officer. I carry to mass. I carry when I mow my lawn. I carry always. I am certain my Pastor thinks I am not paying attention because I am always looking around, behind, at every movement, newcomer, etc. Father, I have your six.

  19. msouth85 says:

    QuietContemplative,
    Living in a diocese in Texas that has posted the 30.06 amd 30.07 signs is worrisome. First, I would say ask your pastor as he would be the one handling the situation. Second, I would write a letter to bishop explaining your concerns. One could even try to get a petition going to show bishop that a lot of his flock are worried about said policy.
    Bryan D. Boyle,
    I agree. Us men need to man up and help father if needed.

  20. Thank you to JTH for your public service and reasoned response .
    Here in Madison a few years ago a mother of 4 was in her garage tidying. The door was open . She was confronted as a man with a gun started to approach the property.
    She called 911 and reached for her firearm.
    She shot him dead as he raised his firearm.
    Police arrived 12 mins later.
    Police can only be there so quickly. Society would be chaos without them … however if Father Walker or Terra had been armed we probably wouldn’t know their names as we do.
    Forget the feelings. REASON . Common sense .
    LOCK AND LOAD .
    Oh and Switzerland , certainly not a bastion of violent crime allows every person ( no history of violent crime or mental illness) to possess a firearm ( up to 3) and be trained how to use it.
    So, which is worse?
    Living in Chicago with the strictest gun laws in the country and out of control criminals illegally using firearms and law-abiding citizens not allowed or Switzerland where the good guys are armed and has the lowest homicide rate in the world? No brainer.

  21. JustaSinner says:

    Is it allowable to have a weapon at Mass? [Yes. However, some places might have particular law in that regard.] And Fr. Z, can a side arm be blessed? [Yes. I have done so with some frequency for people.]

  22. LarryW2LJ says:

    Fathers, you are familiar with your parishes and parishioners. If you see something strange or some stranger walking around, trying to get to areas that they shouldn’t be – don’t just fluff it off. You’ll know in your gut if something “isn’t quite right”. It’s better to have said something to the proper authorities and have been wrong, than to wish you had said something after an incident.

    I would echo Father’s suggestion about an “Active Shooter Workshop”. It’s a sad fact that we need training sessions like these today; but they are really worthwhile. I have attended this training, as a support to First Responders, that was offered through our county’s Prosectutor’s Office. It was perhaps the second best training session I have ever attended. The best one was a workshop on Hemorrhagic Bleeding Control. Again, this training was offered to CERT members by our County Office of Emergency Management. We were instructed by three EMTs who are former Military EVAC Technicians. By attending the training, I signed a document agreeing carry a Personal First Aid Kit with me wherever I go. It has has several tourniquets. as well as bandages treated with clotting agents. [You might recall that I had items useful for such kits on my Amazon wishlist. When I travel, I always have a small kit with clotting agents, etc.] You never know when you’ll be required to jump in to save someone’s life. An arterial bleed can cause a person to die within four minutes. If your local law enforcement officials or Emergency Management officials can’t help you in this regard, you might want to consult with local gun clubs or shooting ranges. Some offer classes on BCON. (Bleeding Control) [As I mentioned on the wishlist, “All bleeding stops…eventually. I’d like to make it stop a little sooner.”]

    These classes are not free, of course. However, I think it would be wise if the Bishops would take this task upon themselves and consult with the proper Law Enforcement and Emergency Management officials to have these classes offered to all parish priests within their Diocese.

    The other thing I would suggest is if Pastors would meet with their local K of C Councils and address the need for “Sargent at Arms” at Masses and other liturgical functions. Recruiting Knights who are already LEOs, EMTs, Fire Fighters and CERT Members is a good thing. They are usually only too willing to help and it would be a good thing to know you have people in the Church building with their eyes peeled and ready to take action, if necessary. [Good idea.]

  23. FrJohnDowney says:

    I’ve received a few threats myself, none as graphic as these, but threats none the less. One was from a Deacon. One was from a Priest who had left ministry and was now “married”. One was not so much a threat as a crazy experience of an Hispanic woman and her husband coming into my office to reprimand me for being a “racist”, as I had written about my sadness over the death of a Police Officer who was murdered. He was Hispanic, but his murderers were Hispanic, so she assumed that because I objected to his murder I must be a racist. Crazy, but true.

    [The imaginary stuff in fevered minds… that’s tough to deal with.]

  24. Moro says:

    Good point Stephen C!

    I would also suggest that the pastor or his designee like a deacon or parochial vicar, develop a positive relationship with the local municipal government or police department. This may take time but it will make cooperation easier when needed. Due to the poor decisions of bishops and priest in handling sex abuse cases, I suspect Catholic clergy are viewed with caution or even skepticism. That might not be fair, but it is reality. We need to regain their trust.

    In addition to Fr. Z’s suggestion to document everything, I would say this should apply not just to threats but also to acts of vandalism. When I lived in Spain, communist and obscene feminist things were often grafffitied on to neighborhood churches very often. I suspect it was so common, the police probably did little if anything. In this culture, we need to let our enemies know we are not going to just sit by and take it. By all means, so mercy but demand that the virtue of justice is also satisfied and assert our rights, most especially the to right to exist and have our rights recognized and respected.

  25. QuietContemplative says:

    @jflare: In Texas, while laws restricting the open carry of any bladed weapon were officially removed, the one caveat is that they must effectively follow the same restrictions as concealed carry. That is to say, while I can go to the grocery store with a rapier or arming sword or boar spear, I cannot go to church, pick up my child/grandchild from school, visit my family at college, visit my buddies at the bar or visit my sick friend at the hospital with the same. So, those sabers couldn’t be real here in Texas. That said, if they WERE real, that would legitimately be a reasonable means of defending the sanctuary. Sgt. Tueller of SLC, Utah PD determined that any attacker within approximately 20 feet with a blade will be able to successfully attack before a shot can be fired. So, were genuine blades able to be carried on a church campus, a few strategically positioned and well trained knights would be more than ample defense. As to sabers being “old fashioned”, as a practitioner of Historical European Martial Arts (Long sword and rapier), I can assure you, being old fashioned makes them no less dangerous. If you disagree, there are numerous cutting tests with genuine sharp sabers on youtube using a variety of targets (rolled mats, water bottles, pig carcasses, clay dummies). Now, all that said, I’d love it if we could create a new Knightly order with express permission to carry (blades or guns, doesn’t matter) solely for defending the church grounds during peopled events. Full regalia… sort of a local swiss guard auxiliary. Though maybe a bit less colorful…

  26. hwriggles4 says:

    One of my Brother Knights is a retired Department of Public Safety (code for State Trooper in Texas) and he has a CCL. Another parish I sometimes attended often has a police officer on site during Masses.

    Priests, don’t be passive – learn some self defense training. If you were ever a Boy Scout, you may remember shooting on the rifle range. If you were a wrestler in high school you probably remember some tactics. If you went hunting with your dad as a kid (My priest likes to deer hunt), don’t be afraid to keep your gun close to your bed. I believe Fr. Terra was going for his gun when he got hurt and when Fr. Walker was killed.

    Priests, get to know some law enforcement officers (I spent six years as an EMT firefighter) in your parish too.

  27. Absit invidia says:

    Another thing safety measure to implement is to have somebody reliable who is not afraid to use a gun, like a nearby cop in the n-hood who can come at a moments notice for backup; but also the priest themselves should own a weapon, get the concealed permit, carry it with them and know how to use it.

  28. KT127 says:

    Distracted targets are the easiest targets.

    Please be aware of how much your cell phone can distract you. I am sure the call/text is very important, but make sure you are in a secured place. Mom always taught me you shouldn’t use your car as a room. It is there to help you get from point A to point B, not give you a place to balance your checkbook (or gab on the phone). If you do need to use your car, make sure the doors are locked and your keys are handy. Don’t sit in your car in a place where it is easy for someone to block you in.

  29. tominrichmond says:

    Dittos on the situational awareness and security preparedness for priests, rectories, and parish facilities. As a prosecutor, I would only add that the keeping of all possible documentation of threats is vital. You never know when a note, text, email, or voicemail might prove pivotal in making a case against a threat-maker. Also, priests (and others) should absolutely report each and all threats to authorities, so even if a particular threat is not prosecutable, a record is being established which might be important in a subsequent successful prosecution.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  30. Being a Priest is a though job. In 2014, in our small diocese, Fr Gilbert (a good holy priest) was killed out of hatred for the faith… which reminds me : pray for our priests!

    Fr Gilbert Dasna : Pray for us

    https://www.catholicregister.org/item/18195-fallen-fr-gilbert-dasna-remembered-as-example-of-jesus-christ

  31. APX says:

    however if Father Walker or Terra had been armed we probably wouldn’t know their names as we do.

    Fr. Terra was armed. The burglar attacked Fr. Terra with a crowbar while he was trying to use his gun, and it got into the wrong hands and was used to shoot Fr. Walker.

    It’s very important to have training in using your firearm in high stress emergency situations. It’s not like going to range to shoot.

  32. jflare says:

    QuietContemplative: This state did much the same thing. Even a CCP holder may not carry a firearm into a school, church, or government building. In theory, LEOs will handle any violence. We do not seem to have remembered Columbine or other incidents. *sigh*
    As far as a saber goes, I actually meant that I would want to have a saber kept in the nave of the itself. It would need to be easy for ushers to reach, but where an person would not see it.
    I do think it noteworthy that, even a fake sword likely would be better than nothing. At worst, even if I can’t cut with it properly, a potential assailant may not know that. If nothing else, we could give a hard slap with it at least once. Or, if the point might be kept moderately sharp, such might be deterrent enough.

  33. frjim4321 says:

    And save the envelopes, too.

    I caught an anonymous hater once because she sent an “anonymous” letter using the exact same fonts, margins, stock, and misspelled outside address as a signed letter from four years previous.

  34. This is very disturbing. God help us please! Praying.

  35. JesusFreak84 says:

    Most US-based VPNs WILL give up the user’s real IP if required; TOR users are harder to track down, though.

    It seems like priests, (and their equivalents in other faiths,) would be natural candidates for services like what the NRA and USCCA, (and perhaps others? I’m unaware of any but,) offer, i.e. legal help and such, specifically in the even that, God-forbid, he has to discharge his firearm.