USCCB committees call for action in response to Newtown tragedy

USCCB committees call for action in response to Newtown tragedy

By Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The chairmen of three committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a joint statement Dec. 21 stressing the need for gun control, improved services for the mentally ill and a critical examination of the violence in today’s movies, videos and television shows.

The statement was released in response to the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children, the principal and five teachers dead.

The bishops said they joined New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, president of the USCCB, who in a Dec. 14 statement expressed his “profound solidarity with and prayers for the families, friends, neighbors, and communities whose hearts have been rent by the loss of a child or loved one.”

“Understandably this tragedy has given rise to discussions about national policies and steps that can be taken to foster a culture that protects the innocent and those most vulnerable among us. It is time for our nation to renew a culture of life in our society,” said the committee chairmen.

They are Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, Committee on Communications; and Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.

The bishops called on all Americans and elected leaders in particular to have “faith-filled courage to address the challenges our nation faces, both in our homes and in our national policies.”

They noted that “guns are too easily accessible” and cited a 2006 document by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace that stressed the importance of enacting concrete controls on handguns and noted that “limiting the purchase of such arms would certainly not infringe on the rights of anyone.”

They also reiterated some of what the U.S. bishops said in a 2000 statement on “Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice.”

The statement urged U.S. legislators to support measures that control the sale and use of firearms and make guns safer. They also called on sensible regulations of handguns and limited access to assault weapons. The bishops also said legislators should confront the pervasive role of addiction and mental illness in crime.

In responding to the Newtown tragedy, the bishops also urged entertainers, particularly film producers and video game creators, to recognize the extent of violence in movies, television programs and video games, which they said have “desensitized all of us.”

“We need to admit that the viewing and use of these products has negative emotional, psychological and spiritual effects on people,” they added, stressing that parents, guardians and youths need resources to “evaluate entertainment products intelligently.”

The bishops said the tragic shooting also points to the need for society to “provide health services and support to those who have mental illnesses and to their families and caregivers.”

“Burdensome health care policies must be adjusted so people can get help for themselves or others in need. Just as we properly reach out to those with physical challenges we need to approach mental health concerns with equal sensitivity,” they continued. “There is no shame in seeking help for oneself or others; the only shame is in refusing to provide care and support.”

The bishops also noted the “glimmers of hope in this tragedy,” pointing out those who made extraordinary efforts to protect life. They said the schoolteachers, principal, students, first responders and other leaders “showed tremendous courage during the tragedy.”

A Dec. 20 statement by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious similarly noted how the school shooting calls for gun control and efforts to change the culture of violence in the entertainment industry to prevent further tragedies.

“There is much to mourn, but mourning is not enough,” the statement said, noting that “gun regulation is an imperative.”

“This is also a time to restore civility to our world and work to change the pervasive culture of violence found throughout this nation, and especially in the entertainment industry.”

The LCWR statement urged the organization’s members to “stand up and speak out for the sacredness of the lives of these children and all people everywhere.”

They urged women religious to tell elected officials of their support for responsible gun legislation and for a federal ban on assault weapons as well as for better care for those with mental illness and steps to steps to address the growing use of violence in entertainment.

The statement also had called on sisters to participate in the nationwide effort Dec. 21 to remember the 26 people killed in the Newtown school as monasteries and churches tolled their bells 26 times at 9:30 a.m.

Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, Alberta, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote a Dec. 17 letter to Cardinal Dolan expressing “heartfelt prayers and deepest sympathies” to the families and community of Newtown, the Diocese of Bridgeport and the parish of St. Rose of Lima.”

“Canadians join with Americans and the rest of the world in lamenting this tragic moment. It is not only the local community of Newtown or your own nation which is experiencing such great loss and sorrow, but also the whole of North American society,” the archbishop wrote. “Our culture has become mesmerized and exploited by violence in its many dehumanizing and senseless forms.

“Its victims are not only the dead, the wounded, their families and the citizens of Newtown. Each of us has been injured and hurt: every heart by the images of human suffering, every soul by the malice and cruelty at work in any act of violence.”

In response, Cardinal Dolan thanked the archbishop, saying the support “as our northern neighbor comforts us and reminds us that the Catholic community is a single community, not divided by rivers and mountains, but united in the one family of Jesus.”

“We shall continue to work together,” he wrote, “so both our nations discover a rebirth of love and a renewed appreciation for the gift and value of each human life and every human family.”