Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

A woman prays in front of a makeshift memorial in Nashville, Tenn., March 28, 2023, by the entrance of the Covenant School the day after a mass shooting. Three adults and three children, all 9 years old, were fatally shot at the school. OSV NEWS PHOTO/MARK ZALESKI, USA TODAY NETWORK VIA REUTERS

Calling our national leaders to be genuinely pro-life

My Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

After the Nashville school shooting of a few weeks ago that saw six people, including three nine-year-olds, die, I began to consider writing my next article for The Western Kentucky Catholic on the subject of gun violence. I had done some research and begun to organize the article in my mind. As I sat at my desk to write on Easter Monday morning, my phone alerted me to the first reports of a mass shooting at a workplace in downtown Louisville. As I was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville and served there for many years before becoming bishop of Owensboro, I know hundreds of people who work in downtown Louisville.

As the news unfolded of at least five dead and several more taken to hospitals – including two police officers – I strived to focus my concentration to write. I wrote for a couple of hours and felt my anger rising as more details emerged.

I finally realized that my anger was what was writing the article. If ever anger can be righteous surely senseless killing of innocent people would be such an occasion. But anger can also be sinful; in fact, the Church identifies anger as one of the seven deadly sins.

So how does one address gun violence in a pastoral way? How does one comfort a man or woman who has lost a spouse, a child who has lost a parent, a parent who has lost a child? Where do we begin to turn anger into something constructive?  Is that even possible?

The United States is far from the most violent nation in the world. There are places where criminal militias are armed and cannot be controlled by legitimate police or military authorities. We read of Russia bombing schools and hospitals and residential neighborhoods in Ukraine, and the civil world is outraged.

Yet we show no will as a nation to adopt commonsense limitations on gun ownership or on the availability of automatic assault weapons. Perhaps I should say that our Congress shows no such will. Polls and studies show that a great majority of Americans favor commonsense legislation which in other countries has significantly curbed gun violence. Are we clearly and vocally holding these representatives to accountability?

After the Nashville shooting a member of Congress said in an interview, “If you want to legislate evil, it’s just not going to happen. We need a real revival in this country.” I do not wish to parody, as many do, those who in the face of violence assure us of their “thoughts and prayers” with no desire for tangible change. But as Catholics, we believe that prayer and work go hand-in-hand (“ora et labora”). One way we might act is to demand action from our elected representatives. Through our thoughts and prayers, we are called to action, called to demand a response, called to begin to consider remedies.

Another member of Congress recently said, “A recent report states that Americans own 46 percent of the world’s guns, I think we need to get these numbers up.”

This is obscene. This reminds me of the Biblical story of the worship of the golden calf where the people put their faith in something other than God to protect them. This truly is idolatry.

Another way to address this violence is to ask our nation, “How is this working out for us?” How is the proliferation of guns – with not even a modest measure to control them – protecting us, as our dead sisters and brothers and children are counted in the hundreds?

We stand alone among the major nations of the world in tolerating such slaughter.  After the school shooting in Marshall County in 2018 I wrote, “Calling upon our nation to restrict guns in some manner in no way precludes reasonable gun sports. We set speed limits to save lives. We challenge pro-choice, pro-abortion voices because human life in the womb is created in God’s image and is sacred.  Yes, this does limit a woman’s control over her body – but for the greater good of preserving human life.”

It has been more than five years since young people died in a mass shooting here in our diocese at Marshall County High School. Five years, and as a nation and as a society we have done nothing to curb the insane violence. As believers in Jesus Christ we do not have to accept this sinful pattern of needless killing. As citizens we can demand our leaders to genuinely be pro-life.

Sincerely in Christ,

Most Reverend William F. Medley
Diocese of Owensboro

Originally printed in the May 2023 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.

Current Issue

Publisher |  Bishop William F. Medley
Editor |  Elizabeth Wong Barnstead
Contributors |  Riley Greif, Rachel Hall
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