By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Editor | Published June 27, 2023 | En Español
ATLANTA—Sitting in front of a replica of Michelangelo’s Pietà—the sculpture of Mary holding her crucified son—the bishops of the Atlanta Province signed a joint statement June 27 urging “decisive action” on legislation to curb gun violence.
The Bishops of the Province of Atlanta gathered at the Cathedral of Christ the King following the noon Mass. Each of the eight bishops attending signed the letter. The Atlanta Province includes the Diocese of Savannah, the Diocese of Charleston in South Carolina and the Dioceses of Charlotte and Raleigh in North Carolina.
“The Gospel calls us in a particular way to protect the most vulnerable among us,” read the statement. “The ready accessibility of firearms presents an immediate threat to the wellbeing of children, families impacted by domestic violence and individuals experiencing mental illness. Our first priority must therefore be to prevent firearms from falling into the hands of those who would carry out violent acts against children in schools, against their families or against themselves.”
In the statement, the bishops called on federal and state officials within the province to implement meaningful legislation addressing the “plague of gun violence” nationwide and locally. “As legislators, you are in a unique position to support and promote public policy that will save lives,” they wrote.
The Gun Violence Archive, which draws data from law enforcement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other agencies, has reported more than 200 mass shootings, 9,000 suicides and the deaths of more than 700 children and teens by gun violence in the first half of 2023.
During his homily, Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., spoke about the symbolism of the Book of the Gospels held over a bishop’s head during a rite of ordination. It represents the principal task of proclaiming and living the Gospel.
“It means that the bishop must be especially attentive to the needs of his people and their concerns,” said the archbishop. “One of those concerns that keeps surfacing in our city and in our country is gun violence.”
He said while the bishops do not deny the right to defend oneself, the vulnerable must be protected.
“As bishops, we would be failing in our ordination promises, if we were to remain silent on an issue that has caused so much pain and sadness,” he said. “As the great statesman Edmund Burke declared: ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’”
The archbishop affirmed that “our dignity lives in the fact that every person is made in the image and likeness of God.”
“We are a people of life, and we must proclaim the Gospel of Life, whether it is convenient or inconvenient,” he said referencing St. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy from the first Scripture reading of the Mass.
The eight bishops signing the statement were Archbishop Hartmayer, Bishop Jacques Fabre-Jeune, CS, of Charleston, Bishop Luis Zarama of Raleigh, Bishop Stephen D. Parkes of Savannah, Bishop Emeritus John Kevin Boland of Savannah, and Atlanta’s auxiliaries, Bishop Joel M. Konzen, SM; Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III and Bishop John N. Tran. Bishop Peter Jugis of Charlotte was unable to attend the meeting.
In line with measures supported by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the statement asked for several reforms: a total ban on assault weapons, universal background checks for all gun purchases, limitations on civilian access to high-capacity weapons and ammunition magazines, improved access to and increased resources for mental health care and earlier interventions and regulations and limitations on the purchasing of handguns. An additional reform outlined was to require gun owners to provide safe storage and report lost and stolen guns.
After each bishop signed the document, Archbishop Hartmayer thanked parishioners who stayed to listen to its reading, asking them to “continue to pray for increased legislation to safeguard our children, our citizens and those who are visiting the United States.”
He urged all to “contact your elected officials to support those actions that would be necessary to cease the violence, the senseless violence, the killing of our people.”