Author: Tobias Winright

Pacem in terris, the US Gun Legislation Debate, and Rights

April 11th is the 50th anniversary of Pope John XXIII’s social encyclical Pacem in terris. Coincidentally, I reread it this week with graduate students taking my Social Ethics course, and it generated some thoughts and questions about the current debate on gun legislation in the United States. In Part I, John XXIII writes that every human being is a person; that is, [human] nature is endowed with intelligence and free will. Indeed, precisely because he is a person he has rights and obligations flowing directly and simultaneously from his very nature. And as these rights and obligations are universal and inviolable, so they cannot in any way be surrendered (#9). On this basis, the pope enumerates several human rights (e.g., the right to life, to bodily integrity, to a good reputation, to a basic education, to be able to practice religion privately and publicly, to establish a family, to assemble and associate with others, to emigrate and immigrate, and more), while also listing several human duties that correlate with these rights.  Pacem in terris maintains that rights and duties must go hand in hand. For example, the right of every [person] to life is correlative with the duty to preserve it; [the] right to a decent standard of living with the duty of living it becomingly; and [the] right to investigate the truth freely, with the duty of seeking it ever more completely and profoundly...

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Pope Francis, Saint Peter, and the Other

Pope Francis has made quite the impression in his first week of Petrine ministry. He has already become endeared to many with his gestures of humility, including his bowing and asking the crowd’s blessing on election night, his paying his own hotel bill, his declining papal regalia such as a gold pectoral cross, and his spontaneous acts of greeting the crowds and blessing children, the sick, and even a dog.  And he also announced his decision to celebrate the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper in a Rome juvenile detention facility and wash the feet of some of the young detainees, rather than celebrating this Mass at the usual St. Peter’s Basilica or the Basilica of St. John Lateran. In all of this, the Pope’s ministry reflects the spirit of his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi. In a way, though, Pope Francis is also starting off his ministry in the spirit of St. Peter. In Acts 10, Peter traveled to Caesarea to visit a Roman centurion named Cornelius, who was not a Jew but a Gentile. Upon Peter’s arrival, Cornelius fell at his feet and worshiped him. “But Peter made him get up, saying, ‘Stand up; I am only a mortal'” (Acts 10:26, NRSV). When Pope Francis bowed to the crowd on election night, I was reminded of this humble line from St. Peter. In addition, although he...

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To Serve and Protect

In Pope Francis’ brief homily for the inaugural Mass of his papal ministry, he emphasized something that should be familiar to American Catholics who have seen a certain motto sometimes displayed on police cars: to serve and protect. Pope Francis highlighted how he views his calling as well as the vocation of all of us, Christian or not, as: “respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts!” It looks like Pope Francis will be, like Pope Benedict XVI, a green pope. Perhaps Pope Francis will be even greener, given his namesake from Assisi, and with the presence of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, “the Green Patriarch,” also notably present at this inaugural Mass. Not only that, but Pope Francis may even be, as Charlie Camosy has noted,...

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Catholic Theologians, Clergy, & Activists Statement on “Reasonable Measures to Regulate the Sale and Use of Lethal Weapons”

 Earlier today, a statement was issued by more than 60 Catholic theologians, priests, Catholic sisters, justice advocates and retired officials from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to Catholic lawmakers concerning public safety and the need for “reasonable measures to regulate the sale and use of lethal weapons.” The Vatican’s chief spokesperson Rev. Federico Lombardi recently expressed his approval of the direction the Obama administration is taking on this issue. Bishop Stephen Blaire also stated, “The bishops hope that the steps taken by the administration will help to build a culture of life.” Of course, while addressing violence in U.S. society entails many other efforts (by churches, families, community groups, as well as government), requiring better background checks when purchasing firearms and restricting access to things such as high capacity magazines are a reasonable first step. As a former law enforcement officer, I worry about heavily armed citizens who do not have the constant training (and, hopefully, the habits of justice, prudence, courage, and moderation that come from such repeated exercises) needed to discern when to shoot or don’t shoot in split-second situations on the street (or in the movie theaters or schools), and I also worry for police officers who face heavily armed criminals. As a theologian, moreover, I believe there are serious theological issues that need to be considered carefully in connection with our current gun culture, such as the sort raised...

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