View Full Version : Wash post: A Higher Calling Against Guns?

July 15, 2000, 10:15 AM
A Higher Calling Against Guns?

By Bill Broadway
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday , July 15, 2000 ; B09

The Rev. Michael R. Duesterhaus, a Roman Catholic priest, awakened at 3 a.m. to the sound of someone entering his study at Holy Spirit Catholic Church
in Annandale. He saw the angled beam of a flashlight and knew he had an intruder--and no way out.

Trapped in his bedroom, just beyond the study, the priest quietly unlocked his gun kit and took out a 9mm pistol. He flipped on a light and ordered the
stranger to freeze and lie on the floor. The man stopped, then reached for his belt and charged.

Duesterhaus fired. The man paused, apparently wounded, then ran into the hall. The priest pursued and fired again, this time at the man's feet. He chased the
intruder in the hall and looked down the stairs, expecting him to be gone. Instead, the man raised his hand toward the priest, who fired a third time,
deliberately wide of his target. The man ran out a side door, taking with him a small amount of cash.

Total time elapsed: 15 seconds.

The outcome of this 1993 incident contrasts sharply with last month's brutal slaying of an unarmed Germantown priest, Monsignor Thomas Wells, during
an apparent burglary overnight. And such attacks, although infrequent, have generated an unusual, chilling dialogue about whether priests and other
clergy--as models of compassion and love--are justified in using violence for self-defense.

The idea of a priest or bishop owning a handgun shocks many Catholics. But some do, whether for hunting, target practice or self-defense, and church law
allows it. But theologians and ethicists differ on whether priests should ever point a weapon at another person--and fire.

Duesterhaus, then 28, shot at the intruder, and he and three other priests living in the Holy Spirit rectory were unharmed. Wells, 56, who stayed alone in the
rectory at Mother Seton Catholic Church, died after being stabbed repeatedly in a violent struggle.

Would the outcome have been different if Wells had owned a handgun? John M. Snyder, 60, a Catholic layman and chief lobbyist for the
Washington-based Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, believes so.

On June 9, the day after Wells's body was found, Snyder released a statement saying Wells "most likely would be alive today if he'd had a loaded handgun
and knew how to use it."

Washington Auxiliary Bishop William E. Lori objected strongly. He called the suggestion that priests be encouraged to own handguns for self-defense
"unworthy of Monsignor Wells's memory."

The Rev. Aaron Joseph Coty, administrator of Mother Seton parish, finds abhorrent the idea that priests--or anyone, for that matter--own handguns. "You
don't need weapons to defend yourself," he said. "There are other ways. You can talk with the person, reason with the person, get into a fistfight."

'The Last Resort'

But the Rev. Robert J. Rippy, chancellor of the Diocese of Arlington, has a different view. "A priest, like any other citizen, has a right to self-preservation,"
he told the Arlington Catholic Herald after the Duesterhaus incident. "A person has a right to preserve their life from an unjust aggressor."

Priests have the same right as anyone else to own a legally purchased handgun, Rippy said in a recent interview. But the use of a weapon should be "the last
resort" after attempts to disarm or dissuade the aggressor--and never with the intent to kill, only to repel or maim.

The Roman Catholic Church has no official policy on the ownership and use of guns by clergy, members of religious orders or lay people. The "Catechism
of the Catholic Church," a 900-page book outlining the church's theological position on a vast array of moral, practical and ethical issues, is silent on gun

But the guide asserts the right of "persons and societies" to defend themselves.

"Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality," reads Paragraph 2264. "Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one's own right
to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow."

Whether the catechism applies equally to clergy and laity on self-protection is a matter of dispute. John Berkman, assistant professor of theology and ethics
specialist at Catholic University, said priests are held to a "higher standard of perfection" that includes the rejection of any form of violence that results in
another person's death.

"I challenge anyone to come up with a contemporary Catholic teaching that sanctions priests defending themselves in a way that will lead them to kill," he

But Monsignor Thomas J. Green, professor of canon law at Catholic University, said the catechism applies to everyone. Furthermore, in canon law, the
official body of ecclesiastical statutes revised in 1983, "there's clearly no prohibition on self-defense, whether cleric or not," he said.

Green said the previous code, enacted in 1918, prohibited priests from carrying weapons "unless there is reasonable cause for such a precaution." The old
code also barred them from "habitually hunting" and hunting "with a pack of hounds," to discourage priests from spending too much time with members of
the upper class.

As for priests owning guns, the new canon leaves the question "open-ended" and subject to "local conditions," meaning the bishop of each diocese can
determine whether it needs a policy on gun ownership, Green said.

One church organization that has taken a strong stand against handguns is the U.S. Catholic Conference, the public advocacy arm of the National
Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"Some have suggested that homeowners and citizens should arm themselves to protect their families from murder, assault or robbery," the conference's
Committee on Social Development and World Peace said in a 1975 document on handgun violence. "The sad fact is that a handgun purchased for
protection is often used in a moment of rage or fear against a relative or acquaintance."

The defensive use of handguns throughout society is "one of the most controversial topics within the field of gun policy right now," said Jon Vernick,
associate director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research and a gun control advocate.

"Even if you believe that a person who brings a gun into a home might have an opportunity for self-defense, there's still a question of what societal harm
might be done," he said.

A burglar might steal the gun and use it to commit a crime, or a child might find the gun and shoot himself or another child while playing with it. And the
risk of domestic homicides is three time greater in homes with guns, he said. Suicide is five times greater.

Gary Kleck, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at Florida State University, calls such arguments "completely irrelevant." The "corresponding
benefit" would be that someone's life could be saved by a handgun. And that happens more often than many people think, he said.

Analyzing seven years of data from the National Crime Victimization Survey, conducted by the U.S. Justice Department and the Census Bureau, Kleck
concluded that robbery and assault victims who brandish or use handguns are least likely to be injured during those types of crimes.

The surveys, taken from 1979 through 1985, found more than 40,000 victims who used a range of defense strategies--from guns and knives to oral
persuasion and nonviolent resistance, he said.

Although 33 percent of all robbery victims were hurt by an aggressor, 17 percent of those who produced a handgun were injured, Kleck said. Thirty percent
of all assault victims were injured, while only 12 percent who used a handgun were harmed. In both crimes, the highest rate of injury--52 percent and 51
percent respectively--occurred with victims who responded with physical force.

Not a Case of Martyrdom

Whether or not handguns are proven deterrents, the question of whether it is right and proper for a priest to use one remains.

Berkman, the ethicist, sees a "profound inappropriateness" in a priest owning a handgun, especially going to a firing range to practice. If nonviolent
response to brutality is not the goal, "why are the martyrs the highest ideal?" he asked. "Were they stupid?"

But Duesterhaus, the priest who shot at his intruder, said one should not confuse martyrdom with "being mugged for petty cash."

"I would love to die for the Lord Jesus Christ and His Church," said Duesterhaus, who responded to written questions. But "dying due to crime is not
martyrdom; it is just a tragedy. And dying when it can be avoided is just a waste of a life."

Not long after the break-in at Holy Spirit, Duesterhaus served four years as a U.S. Navy chaplain, and he is an officer in the Naval Reserve. In 1997, during
an 18-month stint on Okinawa, Japan, he accompanied a Marine battalion in Operation Pacific Haven to Guam--the temporary home for Kurds who had
escaped from northern Iraq and were on their way to the United States.

Now assistant pastor of St. Michael's Catholic Church in Annandale, he said his firearms training dates to his Boy Scout days. He still owns the 9mm pistol
and practices alone and with military officers.

Honoring Self-Defense

Knowing how to use a gun properly is important, the priest said. Training includes thinking, in advance, of the moral implications of drawing a weapon on
someone and, "when conditions are such that force is necessary," knowing what you would do and how you would do it.

Snyder, the gun lobbyist and a former Catholic seminarian, believes such force is necessary, even for priests. "It's tragic when good clergymen suffer
violence," he said.

In 1989, Snyder founded the St. Gabriel Possenti Society to promote the "historical, philosophical and theological bases for the doctrine of legitimate

The society is named after a 22-year-old seminarian who used a display of marksmanship in 1860 to scare off 20 terrorists threatening to rape and kill
residents of an Italian village. Possenti grabbed a pistol from the holster of one of the soldiers and, barely taking aim, killed a lizard sitting in the road, awing
the invaders.

Possenti was canonized in 1920 as the patron saint of youth, and the society is pressing the Vatican to designate him the "patron of handgunners." It
distributes a 28-page booklet called "Self Defense and the Bible" and awards a medallion--depicting Possenti, a pistol and a lizard--to legislators, police
officers and private citizens who contribute to public understanding of its goals.

Snyder said the attack on Wells shows how a victim could have protected himself if he had been aware of "some of the more muscular aspects of the

Exodus 22:2, for example, says that "if a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed." In 1 Samuel,
David tells Goliath before slaying the giant Philistine: "This day the Lord will hand you over to me, and I'll strike you down and cut off your head."

Jesus supported carrying a weapon for self-defense, Snyder said, quoting Luke 22:36. "He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one," Jesus
tells his disciples at the Last Supper.

Duesterhaus, who was awarded one of the Possenti Society's medallions but refused to accept it, would not comment on whether Wells would have survived
his attack if he had owned a handgun.

"I would leave speculation on the issue to law enforcement and security professionals," he said. "I did not know Monsignor Wells, and not knowing the
type of person he was makes it nearly impossible to judge how he would use or handle a weapon."

© 2000 The Washington Post Company

July 15, 2000, 10:27 AM
Pretty racey stuff for the Post.

Good for the Monsignor who defends himself!

Imagine, calling a priest a martyr because he would not defend himselg against some f***ing thug and dies in the process.

EVERYONE has the right to defend themselves.

[email protected]
www.members.home.net/tbellomo/tbellomo/index.htm (http://www.members.home.net/tbellomo/tbellomo/index.htm)
"As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression.
In both instances there is a twilight when everything remains
seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all
must be most aware of change in the air - however slight -
lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness."
--Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas

July 15, 2000, 10:36 AM
It is beyond a right, it is a duty.

Gonna bring the "Higher Calling" aspect
it, then the question becomes even more

Life is a gift from God,
No one has the right to surrender God's
gift to those who seek after evil.


Robert Foote
July 15, 2000, 04:49 PM
A very good friend of mine who is a priest (and ex-USMC chaplain) hunts occasionally and owned a pistol for a while. He finally decided that in his particular case it possible use it was not compatible with his calling, at least not at this time. He would be the first to point out that that was his personal decision and not binding either way on someone else. I suspect that if he felt responsible for the welfare of his flock in darkest Bosnia or Botswana he would modify that--sort of like the minister in 'Patriot'. He knows full well that I carry 24/7 and has not the slightest problem with that. The Catholic Church's position on self-defense has always been that it is justified in the last resort. If a 'just war' doctrine can be set forth then self-defense is certainly consistent with that.



Dennis Olson
July 15, 2000, 05:00 PM
There are other ways. You can talk with the person, reason with the person, get into a fistfight."

Excuse me for a moment....



There, I feel SO much better now.

"Get in a fistfight" with a gun- or knife-wielding attacker? Geez, that's RICH!

I'm STILL laughing....

Don Gwinn
July 15, 2000, 05:38 PM
Dennis beat me to it. Morons always get the most soundbites in.

Look, if you really believe that you're justified in throwing your life away because a crackhead wants to sell your candlesticks, fine. But don't claim that makes you a holy martyr. What a load.
If that guy's talking about "martyrs" who died because they wouldn't hurt a thug to keep from dying, then yes, absolutely, they were STUPID. Sorry you had to hear it from me.

July 15, 2000, 08:27 PM
While I personally think it is absolutly immoral to accept a salary for performing religious ceremonies because it is using religion as a comertial enterprise, I have absolutly no problem with a priest, minister, shamen, druid, bishop, rabbi, et cetera taking such steps nessesary to protect his or her person.

El Jefe
July 16, 2000, 12:29 AM
All right people this one hits home and I mean Personally, Monsignor Well was a Close personal friend and Confidant of mine, and of my family's, I have known him since I was 16 when he changed my life as I knew for the better. I am not Catholic but I am a Christian, This was a true man of God who often brought in the lowly and the despised the dregs of society and shared the Lord with them. Since My family and I have a bit more insight as to what happened let me say this. Monsignor Wells would never had the Chance to bring it into play. Robert Paul lucas was and is a disturbed man, Evidentally he went to see the Monsignor late at night, the Monsignor let him in and sat to talk with him. When Monsignor Wells got up to get him a drink and turned his back on him he was jumped from behind and Stabbed repeatedly, He left the Monsignors body in the rectory bedroom placed a drawer over his head so he didn't have to listen to what the monsignor was saying as he was dying and STAYED ot ransack the house for anything that might have a street value. Monsignor Wells Always saw the good in people and helped to bring that out in everyone, Had he had a weapon I doubt that it would have ever come into Play. I agree that EVERYONE has the right to defend life and limb, but in this case a weapon would not have helped him. The Man Died doing Gods work trying to save those that most people ignore on the street.......THAT makes him a Martyr. Would he have used the Weapon instead of dying....Of that I have no doubt if could have predicted the outcome, but he couldn't and for someone to say other really chaps me. My Brother is on the Force there in Maryland and My sister in Law Works at the Arch Diocese in Washington D.C. All evidence points to the fact that this Lowlife never gave him a chance, if you want to see this Piece of Work look Here.... http://washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A23504-2000Jun19.html There are other articles as well I suggest that those that want to get further insight read through some of the articles that are posted with it. You will see a truly Great man who was doing Gods Work...........Nuff said

...“ They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” --Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759.

Whereas, to preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them; nor does it follow from this, that all promiscuously must go into actual service on every occasion. The mind that aims at a select militia, must be influenced by a truly anti-republican principle; and when we see many men disposed to practice upon it, whenever they can prevail, no wonder true republicans are for carefully guarding against it.
---Richard Henry Lee, The Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788

Take care and God Bless, El Jefe

The ANTI-HCI Site! (http://www.handguncontrol.net/)

July 16, 2000, 01:03 AM
The Priest at my church is an Ex-USAF Chaplin. He once pulled a broken down shotgun out of a box and used it as a part of his sermon.
And lets not forge that the Chatholic Church once had Warrior Priests and Monks. The Knights Templar are the most well known and there were many others. I would bet that even today some of them are still out there. Sanctioned or not by the Vatican, I think they are out there.
There is a time for peace and a time for war. The church has always said this. But the time for war(or any Violence) is not till the last moment. When all other avenues have been exhausted.

July 16, 2000, 02:31 PM
The part that makes no sense is saying it's ok to use your fists but not a gun. I can see the argument for non-resistance from a Christian point of view (though I would resist), but to say you can fight but not with a gun betrays a poltical agenda, not a religious one.

Besides, didn't the guy who was killed apparently fight back? It says there was a "violent" struggle. Just didn't fight back effectively enough.

[This message has been edited by RHC (edited July 16, 2000).]

El Jefe
July 24, 2000, 09:04 PM
My main point was that People need to have all of the facts before posting such things, The Good Monsignor did not have a chance, yeah there was a bit of a struggle however all accounts point to the fact that he was overwhelmed quickly, brutally stabbed and beaten. I would defend myself to the death and my family as well but Monsignor having a weapon would not have increased the odds any, I have that on good authority, most likely this guy would have come away with his gun as well, Considering that he tore the place up looking for valuables AFTER he killed the Monsignor. Please do not get me wrong I am sure that if he had one and he was able to bring it into play the headlines would have read something like, "Catholic priest brings judgement upon a violent parishioner" I for one would have applauded his action given the circumstances however I am unsure the rest of the world would have seen it that way. Because of his faith, Because he was doing the Work of God, He became a Martyr. I am sure he wasn't seeking that post by act or deed,................

...“ They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” --Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759.

Whereas, to preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them; nor does it follow from this, that all promiscuously must go into actual service on every occasion. The mind that aims at a select militia, must be influenced by a truly anti-republican principle; and when we see many men disposed to practice upon it, whenever they can prevail, no wonder true republicans are for carefully guarding against it.
---Richard Henry Lee, The Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788

Take care and God Bless, El Jefe

The ANTI-HCI Site! (http://www.handguncontrol.net/)