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Abbot Peter Novecosky, OSB


Abbot Peter Novecosky

Facing violence in churches

Pope Francis has asked people not to take pictures during mass. This includes even bishops and priests, who like to take advantage of their physical proximity to the pope at papal liturgies. The mass is not a show, but a beautiful, transformative encounter with the true loving presence of Christ, Pope Francis argues.

When the priest celebrating mass says, “Let us lift up our hearts,” he is not saying, “lift up our cellphones and take a picture. It’s an awful thing” to do, the pope said during his weekly general audience Nov. 8.

I agree with the pope that it is inappropriate for the solemnity of the occasion that people, especially clergy, take pictures during mass.

However, there are even stranger developments taking place in this era when even churches are not immune from mass killings, such as happened Nov. 5 at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. A lone gunman entered the church and shot more than two dozen people, including the acting pastor, in a cold-blooded act.

This has raised alarms across the United States. According to a news release, Bishop Council Nedd II, rector of St. Alban’s Anglican Church in Pine Grove Mills, Pennsylvania is considering arming himself at the altar. The bishop is also a state constable.

In his commentary as co-chair of the Project 21 black leadership network, he wrote: “A pistol in the pulpit may sound extreme, but when people of faith increasingly appear to be targets of armed evil a good shepherd must do what he must do to protect the flock from the wolves. From my perspective as both a bishop and a cop, people must be protected. This includes in sacred spaces.”

He said that it’s shocking that, in a nation founded on the idea of religious freedom, there are monsters out there who now think it’s fair game to target people of faith with deadly force. Citing recent church shootings such as those in Charleston, South Carolina; Antioch, Tennessee and the latest one in Sutherland Springs, he said this brings religious intolerance to a frightening new level.

While I don’t agree with the concept of the clergy packing a gun in church, it is ironic that the Canadian Parliament was taking steps to remove from the Criminal Code protection afforded to religious gatherings and those who lead them.

However the planned action was reversed after an avalanche of letters to parliamentarians, including an open letter to the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada from more than 60 religious leaders and groups. They urged the government to keep section 176 of the Criminal Code of Canada, which was about to be removed by Bill C-51. Section 176 makes it an indictable offence to obstruct or cause violence to an officiating clergyman or minister as well as to disturb religious worship or gatherings.

The Justice Committee amended the proposed bill Nov. 8.

It’s a better solution than the one being proposed across the border.