USCCB president says violence calls for ‘moment of national reflection’

Sandra Sterling reacts during a July 7 vigil in memory of her nephew, Alton Sterling, who was shot dead by police outside a market in Baton Rouge, La. (CNS photo/Jeffrey Dubinsky, Reuters)

Sandra Sterling reacts during a July 7 vigil in memory of her nephew, Alton Sterling, who was shot dead by police outside a market in Baton Rouge, La. (CNS photo/Jeffrey Dubinsky, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The shooting of police officers July 7 near the end of a demonstration in Dallas to protest fatal shootings by police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota earlier in the week “calls us to a moment of national reflection,” said the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“To all people of goodwill, let us beg for the strength to resist the hatred that blinds us to our common humanity,” said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, in a July 8 statement.

The archbishop described the sniper attack on the Dallas police officers “an act of unjustifiable evil.”

He said the “police are not a faceless enemy” but people offering their lives to protect others. He also noted “the suspects in crimes or routine traffic stops are not just a faceless threat” but members of families in “need of assistance, protection and fairness.”

“When compassion does not drive our response to the suffering of either, we have failed one another,” Archbishop Kurtz said.

He said the tragic shootings are reminders of the need to “place ever greater value on the life and dignity of all persons, regardless of their station in life” and hoped that in the days ahead people would look to ways of having open, honest and civil dialogue on issues of race relations, restorative justice, mental health, economic opportunity, and addressing the question of pervasive gun violence.”

Archbishop Blase J. Cupich of Chicago said: “Every corner of our land is in the grip of terror fueled by anger, hatred and mental illness and made possible by plentiful, powerful weapons.”

“It is time to break the cycle of violence and retaliation, of fear and powerlessness that puts more guns in our homes and on our streets,” he said in a statement.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia similarly pointed out violence is not an answer.

“The killings in Baton Rouge (Louisiana), Minnesota and Dallas have proven that by deepening the divides in our national life,” he said in a July 8 statement.

“Black lives matter because all lives matter — beginning with the poor and marginalized, but including the men and women of all races who put their lives on the line to protect the whole community,” he said.

Other bishops have also responded with statements to the recent fatal shootings.

Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik said: “If someone does something violent, it is imperative for us to reach out to each other in kindness and with respect and refrain from blanket condemnations. We must build bridges. We must tear down walls. We must break the cycle of violence.”

He also called on people to recognize that each person is an individual. “We must not judge any person based on their race or color, their national origin, their faith tradition, their politics, their sexual orientation, their job, their vocation, their uniform.”

Bishop John E. Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, said the shootings should cause us to ask God “to show us the way to peace and how to live in harmony with each other.”

He urged Christians to be “people of hope promoting reconciliation in a very violent world” and asked: “How much more killing must we witness before sensibly and rationally addressing the prevalence of guns, the inequalities in access to justice and the violence found in human hearts?”

Bishop Christopher J. Coyne of Burlington, Vermont, and Episcopal Bishop Thomas Ely of Vermont issued a joint statement as “faith leaders whose hearts are aching” over the violent shootings in Dallas, Louisiana and Minnesota.

“We value the hard work and faithful commitment of those entrusted with public safety in communities throughout Vermont and beyond,” the prelates said. “Those who serve the public in dangerous situations are to be commended for their service. Violence directed against police officers in the line of duty has no place in our society.”

“At the same time,” they added, “we deplore the sin of racism that so often manifests itself in acts of prejudice, discrimination and violence toward people of color in our country. This too has no place in our society.”

Here are excerpts from other bishops’ statements issued about the shootings:

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis: “Our nation is in considerable pain as we continue to witness the toll of violence and intolerance on the people of God. On too many mornings over the past several weeks, we have awakened to fresh tragedy and renewed horror (over shootings in Orlando, Florida; Louisiana and Minnesota; and now Dallas). Already, dangerously irresponsible voices are calling for more hate and violent retribution, adding darkness upon darkness. We stand with the church, all Christians, members of all faiths, and people of goodwill in calling for love, peace, justice and reconciliation. … Only in the total and unyielding love of God can true and lasting peace be found.”

Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio: “The families and colleagues of those killed and injured (in Dallas) are foremost in our thoughts at this time of heartbreak and profound sadness. We stand in solidarity with the peacemakers and those who risk their lives daily to ensure our safety. We collectively mourn as a country. The inexplicable violence we have experienced the past few days -– from Dallas to Minnesota to Louisiana to Orlando -– have sown seeds of mistrust and enmity between people and groups that threaten to tear the very fabric of our society apart. It may appear ironic that in this Jubilee Year of Mercy called by Pope Francis, evil seems to have currently gained the upper hand. Our nation has been buffeted by so much tragedy recently that we might feel overwhelmed and hopeless, with many wondering ‘What’s next?’ and possessing a powerful temptation to just turn away, instead of embracing one another.

However, it is precisely at these moments that we need to turn to God … seeking the will of Our Father in deep and profound prayer and reflection.”

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston: “The assassination of five members of the Dallas Police Department last night was a heinous crime that is rightly condemned across our country. … These killings stood in stark contradiction to the spirit of the event, which brought hundreds of citizens to an assembly of peaceful protest in Dallas, similar to other such events around the country. The Dallas Police Department was there to provide protection for those who were peacefully exercising their constitutional right. The purpose of the protest was to raise awareness of and call attention to a problem which cuts across the country. We are now in the second consecutive summer of turmoil linked to the deaths of African-American men in circumstances which often cast a pall over some methods of law enforcement. Each case must be evaluated on its merits and generalized statements often risk being mistaken. But to deny the existence of a problem is to miss an opportunity to address it. … The means and methods of addressing the problem will require the best of our civil servants and the best of our citizens.”

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston: “The shooting of police officers in Dallas last night at the conclusion of a demonstration by peaceful protesters is deeply distressing. I pray for the souls of those who were killed and for their families as well as for those wounded and their loved ones and for all the citizens of Dallas. Recent events of violence against African-Americans by police in Minnesota and Louisiana are most concerning and these tragedies call for our prayer for healing and for change. It seems as though at times our hearts are stony and paralyzed. We need God’s spirit of mercy to melt them and reopen our hearts to the beauty of human life and to rebuilding human communities.”

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