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Chicago archbishop calling for tougher gun control laws

By David Gibson/Religion News Service
On October 25, 2015

Archbishop Blase Cupich, Pope Francis’ personal
pick for influential archdiocese last November, takes
on gun control legislation.
Credit: archchicago.org

(RNS) – Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago, Illinois, has issued a call for tougher gun control laws, a move that may push the volatile issue further up the Catholic hierarchy’s agenda than ever before.

In an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune, Cupich wrote that the original intent of the Constitution’s right to bear arms has been perverted by a gun industry seeking profits at any cost. The founding fathers could not have anticipated the widespread availability of “military-grade assault weapons that have turned our streets into battlefields.”

“It is no longer enough for those of us involved in civic leadership and pastoral care to comfort the bereaved and bewildered families of victims of gun violence,” wrote Cupich. “We must band together to call for gun-control legislation. We must act in ways that promote the dignity and value of human life. And we must do it now.”

He cited a memorable line from Pope Francis’ speech to Congress during his U.S., when the pontiff denounced the profits of the arms trade as “money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood.” 

The pope’s critique drew a standing ovation from many in the House and Senate, though they apparently saw the blast as directed principally at the international arms trade. Cupich disagreed.

“They really can’t stand and applaud one understanding of that line and ignore the domestic implications,” he said during an interview in Rome.

In his op-ed, Cupich cited not only Francis’ remarks, but also the Umpqua Community College massacre in Oregon that took place within a week of the pope’s visit. He also brought up the seemingly nonstop pace of shootings in Chicago itself, a city that has become synonymous with gun violence. In a recent shooting, a toddler was wounded and her mother and grandmother were killed.

Yet, while those tragedies were part of the equation, Cupich said he had been thinking about the issue since he was installed as Francis’ personal pick for the influential archdiocese last November.

He said he wanted to take time to assess the local situation, to talk with pastors and civic leaders and law enforcement officials so that when he did speak out he would “at least provoke further action … rather than just saying something that would get a headline.”

The archbishop not only called out gun sellers and the damage done by their quest for profits, but he also took direct aim at the Constitution’s Second Amendment guarantee of a “right to bear arms,” a right that has become increasingly sacrosanct for many Americans and the powerful gun lobby.

With his column, Cupich – whose is seen as mirroring Francis’ pastoral approach to ministry – became the most prominent U.S. Catholic churchman to call for greater gun control and in the most forceful and direct terms.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which comprises the nearly 450 bishops of the nation, has not made fighting gun violence a priority, and officials representing the hierarchy have generally used more measured language on the issue.

In the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, the USCCB called for “reasonable restrictions” that would not infringe on Second Amendment rights.

Cupich says he hopes his fellow bishops will now consider giving gun control – and the environment, also a priority for Francis – much greater emphasis when they meet next month in Baltimore, Maryland, to revamp their guide for Catholic voters ahead of next year’s election.

Currently, both gun violence and the environment are tacked on at the end of the bishops’ voter guide, called “Faithful Citizenship,” while those issues are clearly at the top of the pontiff’s agenda.

However, gun control “is a point that needs to be raised” by the American hierarchy, Cupich told Religion News Service.

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