US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Give me liberty or give me fewer deaths: Which side will Catholics take in the gun control debate?

By Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

If you thought the election year being over meant that partisan divides among Catholics would subside, think again.

With gun control looming as the big issue for 2013, Catholics are already taking sides in the debate and using an appeal to faith to make their argument. In an editorial for Vatican Radio, Father Federico Lombardi, who heads the Vatican press office, added his name to the religious leaders who support stronger gun restrictions in the United States. And it didn’t take long for Catholic commentators who disagreed with his policy statements to start denouncing Lombardi and pointing out that he doesn’t speak for the Vatican, doesn’t represent church teaching on the issue, and in general doesn’t know what he’s talking about. (Sound familiar?)

And now comes a loaded statement from some prominent Catholic thinkers in favor of stronger gun restrictions who are calling on pro-life Catholics in Congress to essentially put up or shut up. Calling out Republican heroes like Rep. Paul Ryan and Speaker of the House John Boehner--both of whom proudly proclaim their Catholic faith and pro-life values--the statement asks them to put those values ahead of the interests of NRA lobbyists in the gun control debate. Then they tied the gun issue to this week’s March for Life in Washington, an annual gathering of pro-life supporters, with the message that “the defense of human dignity extends beyond protecting life in the womb” and “gun violence demeans human life and tears communities apart.”

Somehow I doubt that proudly self-professed “Catholic deer hunter” Paul Ryan will be swayed on the gun issue by this argument. And surely many other Catholics will line up alongside him, arguing that their faith in no way requires the limitation of gun ownership, even if those limitations could possibly save innocent lives.

This debate is likely to get even more heated in the coming months and will--unfortunately--be ever more divisive for Catholics. Our faith absolutely should inform our decisions when it comes to an issue as important as this, even if there’s no definite “right” or “wrong” position for Catholics to take. But let’s not wave that faith as a flag to cover up our true partisan positions, or as a means of shaming others into abandoning their politics-as-usual approach.

Instead, we should call on our faith to be a guiding light of wisdom in this debate. And hopefully a little civility will prevail because of the high stakes involved, namely the thousands of needless and tragic deaths that are taking place all over our country as a result of gun violence.