Gun control is a social justice issue of concern to America’s Catholic bishops, according to Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, who was recently at a Vatican conference to talk about the contributions the Catholic Church can make regarding nuclear disarmament.
“One of the problems is the organized opposition to gun control, taking the position that any limitation against guns is a limitation on the core rights of individuals,” McElroy told Crux on Friday.
“The notion that to restrict automatic and semi-automatic weapons is a restriction on personal rights that should be given to society, to me, seems unacceptable,” said the 63-year-old McElroy, a former secretary to the late Archbishop John Quinn in San Francisco.
McElroy also charged that the international arms trade “robs the poor,” because it diverts resources in impoverished nations into conflicts and away from projects that would serve the interests of ordinary people.
McElroy spoke with Crux on Friday, also touching on the Catholic’s just war tradition, the role of nationalism in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the role the Vatican can play in nuclear disarmament. What follows are excerpts of that conversation.
Crux: Why, do you believe, is it important for the Holy See to engage on the issue of disarmament of nuclear weapons?
McElroy: I think there are two important elements of the Holy See’s engagement on this issue. One is to contribute its own insight, reflective of the tradition, to look at the situation as the world exists today and the challenge of nuclear weapons, and to provide a distinctively Catholic solution to solving this problem hanging over our heads.
I think that the pope’s address on Friday points to that. It’s another step forward in recapitulation and application of Catholic teaching with a new conclusion today, namely that the possession itself of nuclear weapons is to be condemned.
You’ve been tasked with talking at this conference on, “What should the Church’s contribution be on the question?” Can we have a preview?
I think there are three elements of grace and conversion that the Church should be calling the world to.
One is a conversion from a sense of nationalism to a sense of understanding the importance of the international common good, and what that has to say about how we construct an ethic of nuclear weapons that is in keeping with our fundamental humanity that we share.
The first conversion is the conversion to an understanding of what the international common good calls us to at this moment.
Second is the conversion from the illusion that nuclear weapons really bring us security, to the reality that they introduce a very precarious and perilous element to international relations and they rob us of our security.
And the third conversion is that of moving from the inclination to find resolution by war, to finding resolution by peaceful, nonviolent means.
Do you think the Church is moving away from the idea of the just war?
Whenever the Church talks about issues of war, it’s always operating in the tension between Christ’s call to use nonviolent means, and certain situations in the real world that seem incapable of being resolved justly without some violence.
One of the problems with the just war as it has become utilized in the present moment, is that the jus ad bellum is frequently used as a justification for going to war, rather than how it was meant, a constraint against going to war.
The jus in bellum, that is, the structures of operation during war, have a robustness in many countries. For instance, for the United States military they do erect principles, limits of what you can do during war. This is a challenge that tends to be observed in the U.S. in the military.
But on the jus ad bellum, those requirements that have to be satisfied before going to war, people have found ways of interpreting several of those key elements so that they give a very easy greenlight to war. But that’s not what it was supposed to be, it was supposed to be a strong constraint on war. The problem is that it’s ceased to be that.
Changing gears a bit, but still on the issue of violence. The United States saw a terrible event last weekend, with 26 people being killed as they were attending church. The USCCB issued a strong statement calling for a serious conversation on gun control. Are we seeing the time in which the USCCB adopts gun control or the talk about weapons as a social justice issue?
It think it is a social justice issue. A number of bishops have talked about this with great energy and depth in recent years. One of the problems is the organized opposition to gun control, taking the position that any limitation against guns is a limitation on the core rights of individuals. The notion that to restrict automatic and semi-automatic weapons is a restriction on personal rights that should be given to society, to me, seems unacceptable.
It’s a matter of justice, because we see what comes from it. The problem of guns in our culture leads to so many deaths by guns. We need to move towards well thought-out and articulated pieces of legislation that would command broad support.
There’s tremendous support in polling data for specific pieces of legislation that would bring sensible targeted and effective gun control. The problem is that in Congress, it gets blocked by the lobbyists there. But even the majority of gun owners are supportive of such laws.
I insist, I believe this is an issue of social justice, and the conference should be supportive of that.
Full story at Crux.