The motive of the murder of Fr. Walker and assault on Fr. Terra

In one story about the arrest of the man suspected as the murderer of Fr. Kenneth Walker in Phoenix, I read this:

The person who brutally attacked two Phoenix priests might have a lot of anger toward people and things associated with religion, a Phoenix Police Department spokesman said.


The violent nature of the crimes – the Rev. Kenneth Walker was shot multiple times and the Rev. Joseph Terra was brutally beaten – leads police to believe the attacker is angry at churches, priests or religion in general, said Sgt. Darren Burch of the department’s Silent Witness program.

Burch said there was a lot of anger and venom involved in the attacks in the rectory of the church on Wednesday.


Burch said the attacker might have previously outwardly exhibited anger toward religion or priests but might have become more withdrawn and not as visibly agitated since the attack.


We do not yet know the motive with clarity.  Police suggested that it was, in part at least, a crime of opportunity.

However, if … if… the perp killed Fr. Walker our of hatred for the Christian religion, or for priests, or for some aspect of the Faith and how it must be lived, then there is an additional and important act to reflect on.

Until we know a lot more, we can merely keep our eyes peeled for more information and go about our business.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. pfhawkins says:

    We do not have a definitive motive yet, but it sure looks like the assailant purposefully did a number on Father Terra’s hands.

  2. If the motive was indeed that he was a priest, does this mean he is technically a martyr under the new definition?

    [That would, to my knowledge, be sufficient grounds to make the claim and have that claim seriously studied.]

  3. benedetta says:

    I will attest that there certainly exist, right now at this very moment, persons who act with violence towards people of faith (and at the same time often times presenting a semi-public face under the guise of benign political activism or protest). Those who accept their inducement to carry out public actions (or otherwise) towards someone religious, however it may be rationalized, are in fact accessories to what at the root is extremely violent and based in obsessive, pathological hate. I do not say this in “judgment” but from personal, up close experience.

  4. AnAmericanMother says:

    Those are classic “defensive wounds” – protecting the head from direct blows with the tire iron – one of which would most likely have killed him.
    Meth-heads are both paranoid and suggestible, and with all the over-the-top abuse of religion in general and the Church in particular, it is not surprising that he would act in accordance with what he is hearing everywhere.
    Count on some desperate defense attorney to cook up the “I was abused by a priest” defense. I can almost guarantee it; they have the perp dead to rights with the DNA, and the only possible defense strategy is a mitigation argument. At best it might avoid the death penalty, but there will be people nodding and agreeing and hating on the Church. It all feeds on itself.

  5. Kathleen10 says:

    I hope they get statements before he “lawyers up”. A lawyer would want to stifle anything said that would potentially increase the penalty, like a statement of animus toward priests or the church. How maddening it all is.

  6. Elizabeth D says:

    This is only an unconnected anecdote, but at my St Vincent de Paul volunteer job serving the homeless there was one occasion only when there was a person truly very upset that we are Catholic. This was a person very obviously struggling with mental health (who knows maybe also drugs), and he wound up choosing not to let us serve him because he could not deal with his feelings about Catholicism, or his notions about it, even though I was bending over backward to be kind and welcoming toward him because I felt compassion toward his mental health problem regardless that the content of his thoughts was anti-Catholic. In some corner of his mind I think he recognized he was not acting well and that I was being more kind than his actions merited and this may have helped him to realize he was not coping, disengage and leave. I dont remember what he said but it seemed definitely related to having read anti-Catholic things in the media and internet. Since he was almost fighting mad at us laypeople, it is easy to imagine someone like that could have a hard time controlling himself toward cassock wearing clergy. On another occasion I have experienced a late middle age or elderly homeless man clearly overwhelmed and frustrated by his situation, who approached me at church then was overwhelmed with rage when there was no church staff on premises and no help I could give him, because he felt as a Christian I was obliged to help (he brought up the sheep and the goats), apparently even if I had no immediate way to do so except to suggest the places that do help people in his situation, and pray for him.

    I haven’t seen if it was speculation or if it might have been that Fr Terra reported the man said things indicating anger about religion. The picture of Fr Terra does say it all about the viciousness of the attack. Another article says “According to court documents, a man came to officials Saturday claiming that he heard Moran had bragged to another woman about beating and robbing a priest. That woman came to police Sunday, saying that she had met with Moran and was given a bag containing one of the priest’s cameras. ”

    If his brother priest is a martyr that would have to console poor Fr Terra some.

  7. Netmilsmom says:

    Father, I’m glad you’re not opposed to arming yourself. I’m praying for your safety.

  8. APX says:

    Did the offender indeed break in to the rectory? If that’s the case, he doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Old English common law prevails. A home is a man’s castle and he can defend that castle using up to and includly deadly force if necessary.

  9. In any case the unjust aggressor is back to his old habits, according to his rap sheet. This cockroach stabbed a man repeatedly in the abdomen after waking him up from his sleep. Real nice. There is only solution to such unjust aggressors:

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church states under Legitimate Defense:

    2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

  10. Johnno says:

    Who wants to bet that this guy was involved in some way with the SPLC and/or just reading their materials?

  11. Irish surname. I’m betting there’s a defence of child sexual abuse by a priest in there somewhere.

  12. C N says:

    I work on a mental health unit and like Elizabeth D’s comment, a decent number of people that come through are anti Catholic. And usually it is because they were told their entire lives only what the media says about the Church.

    I had my rosary out one (quiet) night and a patient saw it. Immediately she commented, “You’re Catholic? They’re a bunch of molesters. But I like you…” Fortunately she and I had built up a trust where she wasn’t put off by the fact that I hopefully had a positive impact on her treatment and hopefully her view of Catholics in general.

    Another patient we had started talking to me about how Catholics aren’t Christians, and that his daughter married a Catholic. He eventually found out I was Catholic and just my presence was enough to set him off.

    Based on these experiences I can easily believe that these priests were attacked simply because they are priests.

  13. jaykay says:

    Absit Invidia: but fortunately the death penalty is not the only way to prevent this unjust aggressor from endangering human life. At least, as I understand your situation in the US, life imprisonment usually means just that? So that such a person will be removed from circulation for a period that ensures that he will not be a danger. Which is unlike what happens over this side of the pond, where they can be out in less than ten years. I may be wrong, of course, but our perception over here is that you still take justice seriously. An American Mother will no doubt correct me (and thanks for your as ever real-life take on the situation AAM).

    Phillipa Martyr: yes, good point about the Irish name. Here in actual Ireland I’m wondering how long it will be before a similar crime is committed and the defence will be on those lines. And God knows, given the hatred of the Church currently fanned by ill-informed media and willful ignorance, that may be a short time.

  14. Elizium23 says:

    Elizabeth D, in my job at the parish I can either refer people to an agency which can help them, or I can tell them no. The people who genuinely need help are always grateful to get a lead on a competent agency, and I know a lot of them. We have a big binder full of resources, which helps if I get a special request. Then there are the people who only want money and they want it fast. They aren’t satisfied by referrals and upon hearing “no” they become irate, indignant and uncharitable. More often than not, I am informed how I am such a bad Christian for refusing to produce cash on the spot. One man, in a good-faith attempt to prove his legitimacy, offered to take me in his car to the gas station so I wouldn’t have to give him cash… I gently explained to him that I was in charge of covering the front desk and I couldn’t leave. He still wasted 10-15 minutes of my time. My pastor encourages me to keep these conversations short and on-point. My boss encourages me to call the police if someone is irate. Our maintenance supervisor is a great help because he is on the front lines, out and about on the parish grounds. I can always count on him to report that someone has left the premises, or if he couldn’t find them and they might be hiding, etc.

    I have sometimes felt my personal safety threatened. One man was drunk and demanding charity from our pastor, who blacklisted him. The drunk came back with two of his buddies and singled me out, said I never helped and my coworker there always helped. I was sure I would be jumped later on by the two. Of course they did all of this on camera, and for witnesses.

    I maintain my state of grace and I celebrate the sacraments worthily and frequently. I have a respectable prayer life, it could be better, but it keeps me connected to Our Lord, and it keeps me less preoccupied with passing, temporal things. Oremus. May the Lord stir up in us all a spirit of courage so that we may face persecution and hatred with a loving heart. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

  15. Alan Aversa says:

    Mr. Moran did brag about beating a Catholic priest, as though that were some kind of accomplishment, and that is how he got caught, so hatred of religion and those who represent it seems to be a factor.

  16. Cavaliere says:

    Based on these experiences I can easily believe that these priests were attacked simply because they are priests.

    As noted above, based on this mans previous violent past it would be hard to prove any religious motive.

  17. sirlouis says:

    jaykay: No, “life imprisonment” does not necessarily mean that. And it doesn’t protect other prisoners. A prisoner sentenced to life with no parole in a state where there is no death penalty is then free to kill another prisoner without any significant penalty. And that has happened. There is at least one web site that publishes the names of victims murdered by people already convicted of murder. The list is sad reading.

  18. Phillipa Martyr: yes, good point about the Irish name. Here in actual Ireland I’m wondering how long it will be before a similar crime is committed and the defence will be on those lines. And God knows, given the hatred of the Church currently fanned by ill-informed media and willful ignorance, that may be a short time.

    It’s already happened here in Australia. Convicted millionaire trade union fraudster Michael Williamson used it as part of his defence.

  19. Link missing: Here it is.

    Williamson didn’t try to kill any priests, but obviously his lawyers thought this defence was worth a try anyway.

  20. fiat2011 says:

    RE: The Rosary recorded earlier by Fr. Walker as posted on an earlier blog here:
    “In the weeks before he died, Father Kenneth Walker recorded two rosaries and devotions that will be broadcast on Radio Family Rosary.
    The first, focusing on the Feast of Sacred Heart, will air June 23. The second, in honor of the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, will air the next day.
    Both broadcasts begin at 1:30 p.m. on station KIHP, 1310 AM.”

    What if many in the country would listen and pray with his recordings on air (1: 30 pm -which time zone) of the Rosary and devotions on June 23 and June 24 – to pray for Fr. Walker’s soul and his family, for Fr. Terra, for all of our priests and profound conversions?

  21. St Donatus says:

    I don’t know about you but I sense demonic involvement here. Not to say it was direct but the kind of hatred or sadistic enjoyment by this man is what one would expect of Satan himself.

  22. HyacinthClare says:

    Fiat2011, I assume it’s our time zone, Mountain STANDARD (we don’t go daylight savings in Arizona because we have more daylight than we know what to do with now.) We’re the same as California this time of year.

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