Three U.S. bishops’ committee chairmen have called on the nation’s elected officials “to exert leadership in seeking to heal the wounds” of the country caused by the Aug. 3 and 4 mass shootings and urged an end to hateful rhetoric many see as a factor in the violence, particularly in Texas.
“The tragic loss of life of 22 people this weekend in El Paso demonstrates that hate-filled rhetoric and ideas can become the motivation for some to commit acts of violence,” the bishops said in a joint Aug. 8 statement. “The anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, anti-Muslim, and anti-Semitic sentiments that have been publicly proclaimed in our society in recent years have incited hatred in our communities.”
The statement was issued by Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration; Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla., chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Social Development; and Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, La., chairman of the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism.
“Hatred and harsh rhetoric were echoed in the El Paso shooter’s explanation about why he committed this weekend’s shooting,” they said.
At least 22 have died from the Aug. 3 shooting massacre at a Walmart in El Paso, which so far is the eighth-deadliest mass shooting on U.S. soil. Another 26 people were injured. The suspect has been identified as Patrick Crusius, 21. He was taken into custody without incident.
Crusius, a white male, published a manifesto online shortly before he opened fire in which he decried immigration and announced “this attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” according to news reports.
This anti-immigrant attitude language was “evident in the motivation of the shooters who attacked the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh last year and the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston (South Carolina) in 2015,” the three bishops noted in their statement.
“We, therefore, renew our call to all to act swiftly to stop using hate-filled language that demeans and divides us and motivates some to such horrific violence,” they added. “Instead, we ask our leaders and all Americans to work to unite us as a great, diverse and welcoming people.”
Less than 24 hours after the El Paso shooting, authorities in Dayton, Ohio, reported at least nine dead and more than a dozen injured after a gunman opened fire on a crowd at or near a bar in the early hours of Aug. 4. Among those killed was the gunman’s sister. The suspected gunman was fatally wounded. He was later identified as 24-year-old Connor Betts, who also was white.
Police officials said his motive was not immediately clear but they were aware that Betts, who self-identified as a “leftist” and a supporter of socialism, had a “history of obsession with mass shootings.”
On July 28, a gunman killed three people at a garlic festival in Gilroy, Calif., before taking his own life. At least 15 others were injured.
Pope Francis joined Catholic Church leaders expressing sorrow after the back-to-back mass shootings in the United States.
After the prayer called the Angelus in St Peter’s Square on Aug. 4, the pope said he wanted to convey his spiritual closeness to the victims, the wounded and the families affected by the attacks. He also included those who died a weekend earlier during the shooting at the festival in Gilroy, Calif.
“I am spiritually close to the victims of the episodes of violence that these days have bloodied Texas, California and Ohio, in the United States, affecting defenseless people,” he said.
Three mass shooting incidents in the United States in the span of a week are now showing that “their emotional impact is resonating, understandably, across the nation,” said Bishop Fabre. “The effects of the evil and sin, we are all impacted by it.”
Bishop Fabre said many people think of racism of being a matter for blacks and whites, “but I think there are many, many faces to racism, so I think it resonates with the pastoral letter,” assembled by his committee and approved by the bishops last year, “when we say that this evil affects everyone, and all communities are affected by racism.”
The pastoral letter, “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love—A Pastoral Letter Against Racism,” included separate sections detailing racist treatment directed at African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans.
On Aug. 4, after the second shooting became public, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the chairman of the bishops’ domestic policy committee offered prayers, condolences and urged action.
“The lives lost this weekend confront us with a terrible truth. We can never again believe that mass shootings are an isolated exception. They are an epidemic against life that we must, in justice, face,” said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, in a statement issued jointly with Bishop Dewane.
“We encourage all Catholics to increased prayer and sacrifice for healing and the end of these shootings. We encourage Catholics to pray and raise their voices for needed changes to our national policy and national culture as well,” the statement continued.
Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop Dewane said in their Aug. 4 statement that the bishops’ conference has long advocated for responsible gun laws and increased resources for addressing the root causes of violence and called upon the president and congress to set aside political interests “and find ways to better protect innocent life.”