ASK FATHER: Firearms at Mass, laity and priests – UPDATED

In the wake of the recent horrible Texas church massacre, I now have several email conversations going on – with laity and clergy – about having a concealed firearm in church.

This is an issue which needs sober assessment by everyone, laity and clergy alike.

One person wrote…

QUAERITUR:

Is it correct that a Catholic ignoring his bishops policy on firearms would be committing a sin of disobedience ? Is it a good idea for those with specialized permits and training to write a respectful and humble letter requesting a change ? (please drop my name if you feel its good to post this)

First, I don’t think it is necessarily a mortal sin to ignore the local bishop’s policy, unless there are other, attendant circumstances.  It might be a venial sin.   And venial sins are sins.

It seems to me that ignoring a “No Guns” posting is not grave matter, a requisite for commission of a mortal sin.  Why?  I’m pretty sure that in most places, should the owner of location which is “posted” note that you have a gun, and if you refuse to leave after you are asked, the violation would be only a misdemeanor.  Civil law doesn’t identify this as being a serious violation, such as a felony.  Review the laws where you live.  As far as the spiritual dimension is concerned, bishops and priests cannot tell you what to wear or carry about your person.  They can ask you to leave a church if what you wear or carry is outwardly blasphemous or obscene or immodest or it would disturb a service or cause scandal.  Guns are not, in themselves, blasphemous or obscene, etc.  If they are concealed, they don’t disturb or cause a scandal.  Guns are not, in themselves, evil.  They don’t violate the sacrality of the church, which is itself a sacramental, a sacred place.

Bishops and priests can, however, set policy according to the civil laws for the property the have under their charge.  If the church property is “posted”, pay attention to the local civil statutes!  Just because it probably isn’t a mortal sin to ignore such postings, that doesn’t mean that I think it is right to ignore them.  If it is even a venial sin, and it could be, should it be committed purposely?

Next, is it a good idea to write to the bishop?  I guess so.  People have the right to express themselves to their pastors in a respectful way.  I suppose that if enough people wrote to the bishop, that might make a difference.  However, both sides can do that.  And I suspect that a bishop who would impose such a policy is probably ideologically committed to the point that a reversal would be highly unlikely.

Moving on, a priest wrote, on a lighter note, but not really light, since we are all concerned about violence in churches…

QUAERITUR:

You often post about firearms, keeping oneself safe, etc. I have carried a concealed weapon for a few years (having received requisite training).

I have worn my firearm during Mass before, but always on the waist. Because of my vestments, this isn’t the ideal location to carry on my body.

Do you have any advice re: where to locate a concealed weapon for a priest at Mass?

[…]

After one is tied up with amice, cincture, and chasuble (at least my chasubles are secured with a cloth tie), the only option is the traditional, “Joe Friday” armpit-style holster. One could easily have an opening cut in an alb near the heart for access.

I would say this, Father.

First, if you have done some training, get even more training.

Next, make sure you attend to the civil laws and diocesan policies where you are.

Moreover, you should read my response to the use of the beretta at Mass.  HERE   I opined that perhaps the firearm could be carried by an altar boy on a silver salver covered with a white linen.

Alternatively… perhaps a good number of firearms could be positioned on stands about the sanctuary so that one is always near to hand?  After all, some sanctuaries are filled with lots of useless clutter, large pots of frondy plants, etc.  If with lots of clutter and plants, why not with lots of guns?  Racks of AR-15s?

Then, how might the priest carry at Mass….  not easy.   Having one’s weapon under all that gear isn’t really practical.  The alb with the slit in it might work.   Perhaps one might experiment with an old, worn out alb, slated for burning.

That said, remember, Father, that the holster and firearm are not yet officially approved liturgical vestments.  They shouldn’t be exposed to view as if they were.

“But Father! But Father!”, some of you are countering. “Those awful microphones aren’t liturgical vestments, but priests and – especially bishops – clip them on all the time!  They also cause loud noises and they make some preachers truly lethal.  If a microphone, which is a tool that often causes spiritual harm – far more serious than physical harm – can be worn openly during Mass, why not open carry your gun?  We all know, don’t we!  YOU HATE NEHEMIAH 4:18!”

don’t hate Nehemiah 4:18!  As a matter of fact, that is one of my favorite verses in all of Scripture, along with John 21:3.

Okay, let’s work with this.

I suppose that, when celebrating ad orientem, one could molle the holster to the underside of the front of the Roman chasuble.  It could be helpful to have the holster in the liturgical color of the day. Perhaps several weapons should be available in the sacristy safe, cerakote treated in the liturgical colors, including cerulean for those blue pontifical sets where they are used.  One could also arm the deacon and subdeacon: dalmatics are copious and concealing.  Just so, the weapons would be occasionally visible, but discrete.

Let’s say that the liturgical Beretta (and its variations, the sacred Sig, the glorifying Glock, etc.) were to be carried openly and at the waist.  Since there is now a vesting prayer for the microphone – HERE – we might have another prayer.

Off the top of my head, after the stole but before the chasuble:

Domine, scutum noster et salvator, firma manus meas ad debellandas inimici insidias et digitos meos doce ad proelium contra omnes diabolicas potestates.

Perhaps we can come up with something better, but that could do for now… unless that one receives immediate ecclesiastical approval from a competent authority.

Tracking back to seriousness, everyone should engage in situational awareness at all times.  We never want to read of such a church shooting incident ever again.

I warmly encourage anyone who considers carrying to review local laws and to seek even more training.  In fact, I think everyone should seek the training, even if you know you will never carry: it is extremely useful.  Pay attention to local laws.  I hope also that all law enforcement officers will be always armed and especially vigilant during every church event and act of liturgical worship.  Perhaps let their pastors know who you are and discuss with them what precautions might be taken to secure the sacred precincts… always in good cooperation.

And finally, Father…

Prudence.  Prudence.  Prudence.

The moderation queue is ON for ALL comments right now.

UPDATE:

At the risk of making this longer, this next bit is merited.

From a priest friend (with my usual):

Apropos of the discussion about concealed-carry at Mass, let me tell you a story. I ask, however, that all identifying information be redacted.  [Of course!]

Last Sunday, in the wake of the shooting in Texas, I realized: if it could happen in rural Texas, it could happen where I am, in a rural part of my state. So I thought about it, and resolved to contact a parishioner who I know has all the proper expertise and good judgment. I called him and set up a meeting for later that week.

The next day, another parishioner stops by my office. He has the same thing on his mind. He suggests I contact the very same person; and he offers to help.

The next day, the fellow I originally contacted comes to me with a pretty well thought out plan — helped by input from the other gentleman — which calls for recruiting 12 or so men of the parish who have both a CCW permit, and a sufficient level of training. The thing is, these aren’t 12 who have to go GET the permit and training; THEY ALREADY HAVE IT. The folks I needed were already there. All I had to do was ask. And all the people suggested are solid, level headed men. We don’t want any loose cannons, pardon the pun.

The policy of the diocese is that I must give specific authorization to individuals — not a blanket authorization. Three of those letters have been sent, and more will come in the next few weeks.

We discussed the merits of calling attention to this, versus keeping a low profile. My decision was that it would not help to be a CNN story; the bishop would not like it, and why take a chance that pressure on him would result in a different policy? So we are not telling anyone about this; but if questions are asked, we will just say, “we have a plan.” My guess is that people will know what that means.

That’s one approach.  Thoughtful.  I recommend considering additional professional training for teamwork, etc.  Surely it is available.

Please share!

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17 Responses to ASK FATHER: Firearms at Mass, laity and priests – UPDATED

  1. Cafea Fruor says:

    I wish we had something like bouncers–strong men with the role of watching the entrances to the church and sniffing out suspicious characters.

    While I’d love to learn to use a gun, I probably can’t, since I lack binocular depth perception and can’t even catch a ball without serious trouble. But I would definitely support others doing so.

  2. Moral_Hazard says:

    I’m a military vet with a lot of weapons training who legally carries at Mass at the request of my parish’s pastor. I try to practice at the range quarterly, and practice with snap caps (fake rounds) at home. I think well-trained people carrying firearms is a good thing considering how spree killings are a thing in these United States, but I’m almost of the mind that no armed people is better than an armed person with a poor disposition, poor training, or no training. A crowded place with lots of friendlies is one of the most difficult environments. I’ve shot competitions where the competitor has to move, shoot at different targets avoid hitting “friendlies,” etc. and it’s difficult enough to accomplish this without someone shooting back at you.

    I think that the usefulness an armed individual depends in a large part on the attackers. A man or woman with a handgun is very effective against one person with a machete or even a single unarmored person with a firearm. Multiple bad guys with long arms and body armor will make defense with a side arm very difficult at the least. I’ve spoken about this subject with others at my parish and lots of people are well-intentioned, but are often clueless as how things work in a real fight.

    For the record, I don’t think a priest should carry during mass for a number of reasons: vestments, optics, potential for people (kids, esp) to feel the weapon if they hug the priest, general lack of training, etc.

    [Interesting comments.]

  3. WVC says:

    What about an ankle-holster for priests during Mass?

    [What about one? If I understand correctly, you are asking if an ankle holster would work for the priest. I suppose so, though ankle holsters have their own disadvantages.]

  4. Andrew says:

    People with firearms should be “met where they are” and they should be “accompanied”.

    [It stands to reason.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  5. wmeyer says:

    I submit that for a public place to be publicly declared a “gun-free zone” is to post it as “victims inside.” This seems to me to be a foolish thing for anyone to do, whether layman or cleric. We can see the results of such declarations in the weekly reports out of Chicago.
    I pray our bishops may be sufficiently wise to turn away from the politically correct notions of such public announcements, and to leave the decision to the individuals who have training and experience.

  6. WVC says:

    I’ll echo the sentiments in Moral_Hazard’s comment – things are much crazier in a real life scenario than the average person imagines let alone trains for and there’s a good chance that someone without a very calm head and strong nerves could do more harm than good. I’ll also add another thought: how many folks out there train their families (especially kids) on what to do? Do the kids know where the exits are? Do they know to get UNDER the pew and not just down on the floor? If they get outside, do they have a plan on where to go? Do they understand the concept of going for cover? Are any of the older kids specifically assigned to grab/guide a younger kid?

    If something happens, chaos will reign. The more decisions you can make ahead of time the better – nobody, especially young ones, thinks very clearly in the midst of an unexpected attack.

    I’m struggling with how to handle these things with my own kids. I want them to understand and be aware without also being scared or obsessed over the idea. If anyone has thoughts on ways to approach this – it might be helpful to everyone.

    We live in some weird and messed up times. St. Michael defend us! [Do I hear an “Amen!”?]

  7. will99lang says:

    Did not the KoC make new uniform with up-to-date clothing? Why, their new uniforms are perfect to go with handguns. Beside, the KoC`s fights with the KKK should be an example to them of why and how it it now their duty to retake the arms and defend Holy Mother Church.

    I suggest we do a KoC beretta fund, and make a petition to the KoC to make the new uniform both with the sword, and with the beretta.

  8. Suburbanbanshee says:

    We already have “bouncers” and “door guards.” That is what ushers are for. Don’t put the job on just the old guys.

  9. DavidR says:

    Let me acquaint you with something.

    I am responsible for me and mine.

    The priest is not responsible for me and mine.

    And a bishop in Raleigh is damn sure not responsible for me and mine.

    Draw your own conclusions.

  10. chantgirl says:

    Meanwhile, Isis is threatening “Christmas blood”. Might want to get those plans in place sooner rather than later.

  11. tominrichmond says:

    Interesting points. As a prosecutor, I would echo Father’s comments about knowing the local law. For example, in my Virginia, carrying in churches is a misdemeanor unless done for (a very vague) “good and sufficient” reason. There is no penalty for ignoring someone’s posting of “no firearms.” But every state is different. Heck, in 1632 a law was passed in Virginia *requiring* men to carry weapons to church, presumably to counter the threat posed by Native Americans.
    As to “disobedience” to a no-firearms policy, my own purely personal belief is that a bishop cannot abrogate my natural right and Divine right (cf, the 5th Commandment) to defend myself, my family, and others.

    [Interesting notes about Virginia. Thanks. Everyone should check their local laws.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  12. YoungLatinMassGuy says:

    ISIS is coming…

    THROW STUFF!

    If you don’t have a gun, throw stuff! Throw a hymnal or missal or a purse, iPhone, ANYTHING, at someone’s head, and watch what happens. Doing that will give you the opening you need to either run, or take him down.

    Also, remember: With a gun, the barrel is the “danger zone.” As long as the barrel isn’t pointing at you, you are fine… Everyone should just go take some MMA classes from the biggest ex-Sayeret member they can find.

    But I’m one of those crazy guys who relaxes and actually thinks excruciatingly clearly in emergency life-or-death situations (Think Trombley from “Generation Kill”). In “normal social situations” I’m a nervous wreck, and really can’t “do” normal stuff, I just put on the best mask I can. When things go south, I’m totally fine, and can’t seem to understand why everyone else is freaking out.

    I’ve even scared some people with how I operate in emergencies.

  13. Uxixu says:

    I’m reminded that after anti-Catholic violence in other parts of the country, the great Abp. John Hughes famously posted armed guards at his churches and warned the mayor of NYC that if a single Catholic church were burned, the city would turn into a “second Moscow” (referencing the scorched-Earth retreat of the Russians before Napoleon).

    Then let us recall the ancient minor order of the Porters aka Ostiarii. It is the duty of the shepherds to make sure the flock is safe and packing heat inside the Church shouldn’t be necessary if the church building itself is suitably guarded. Every pastor and bishop everywhere should have this on their minds that is THEIR responsibility to defend their flock if they make them disarm.

    Every parish, even the smallest and most rural should have plan for not only violence but a random disturbance, etc. At it’s most basic, the ushers should be ready to respond to disturbances and have a plan to call and notify law enforcement and identify intruders, as well as local statutes (it’s a crime in most states to disrupt a religious service) as well as the usual for trespassing and vandalism, etc. They should review, if not rehearse this periodically. Yes, planning for an active shooter would be prudent, as well.

    The ideal average parish would have an off-duty layman as an usher. The bigger they get, they should look into their own private security, though reviving the Porters would again seem useful… The security at St. Patrick’s is no joke. They look like the secret service. Basic camera surveillance can be done very cheap at even the smallest parishes. During Mass, it would make sense to have someone in the rectory watching this. As it scales up to the larger parishes and local cathedral, there should be dedicated personnel watching for unusual visitors and can raise the alert to sentries and/or guards and/or law enforcement if they see something suspicious. Being reactive after it happens is too late.

  14. JabbaPapa says:

    I’m uncomfortable at the idea of a priest carrying a weapon before the Holy Altar during Mass, though I do recognise that particular local circumstances are not universally identical everywhere.

    The Catechism, as usual, sheds some light on the broader questions here :

    2264 Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:

    If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful…. Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one’s own life than of another’s.

    2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for someone responsible for another’s life. Preserving the common good requires rendering the unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm. To this end, those holding legitimate authority have the right to repel by armed force aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their charge.

    I seem to vaguely remember though, from my mediaeval studies, that the right to bring a weapon into a church was at that time limited to certain classes of individuals or to the individual bearers of certain rights (anointed knights, for example), and I’m not sure that those old disciplines and rules (not Canons of the Law as such, at least as far as I know) were ever abolished as such, though clearly there is no modern nor updated version of those rules.

    Canon Law does state : Can. 289 §1. Since military service is hardly in keeping with the clerical state, clerics and candidates for sacred orders are not to volunteer for military service except with the permission of their ordinary. — so that it would seem that, in the spirit of this Law if not its letter, except with the permission of his ordinary, a priest should probably not participate personally in the sort of paramilitary/militia group that your priest friend suggested, though this does not of course mean that such groups should not therefore exist where they may be needed for the protection of life, and where they may be lawfully constituted.

    Some people might draw some further perspective from the following video :

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9rp3nve9CJk

  15. Josephus Corvus says:

    One follow-up to Father’s comment and tominrichmond’s comment about local laws. A person might be playing with fire if the parish has a school attached. If you are in a place surrounded by anti-gun people and local law enforcement is not a big proponent of concealed carry, it is not that big of a stretch to call the church building part of “school property”, even on a weekend with no kids in class. Then you are are talking felony….

  16. JabbaPapa says:

    Here’s another rather amusing video :

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ag1v5NmJD-A

  17. Ranger01 says:

    I completely agree with DavidR’s post.
    I will decide how I protect my family, thank you very much good bishop, not you.
    The USCCB is first, last and always a PC bureaucracy beholden to the USG for lots and lots of $$.
    The USCCB is, unfortunately, most uninterested in the realities of protecting Catholic families at prayer. Bet on it.