cross and guns
Wooden cross in a pile of guns / Image by TaraPatta (Depositphotos)

Though Not Discussed Often, Guns Remain a Top Issue for Spokane Bishop, Priests

Though Not Discussed Often, Guns Remain a Top Issue for Spokane Bishop, Priests

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News Story by Erika Rasmussen

In closets, in gloveboxes, in drawers and nooks and crannies all around the Spokane Valley region, there are guns. How people relate to those guns is individual; the approach to firearms is a wildly diversified human reality — and the topic proves just as varied for Spokanites of different backgrounds and paradigms.

Over the past year, the Catholic community in Spokane has had reason to talk about guns, even if the reality is: Guns are not being talked about, at least not out in the open. At least according to two local priests, they’re not at top of mind for a community concerned about a few other top-of-mind things. But guns presented as a top issue for at least one other very prominent Spokane Catholic: Bishop Thomas Daly. 

Bishop Thomas Daly / Contributed

On June 3, Bishop Daly of Spokane co-signed a letter on gun violence to Congress, alongside Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore. The letter came a week and a half after a gunman shot and killed 19 elementary school students and two of their teachers — injuring 17 others — in Uvalde, Texas. The bishops’ letter spoke on the need to protect life, urging Congress to enact stronger measures to prevent firearm deaths, such as universal background checks for gun purchases, the total ban of assault weapons and an end to civilian use of high-capacity weapons and ammunition magazines. The letter’s writers called for uniting humanity in the aim to stop massacres, and for the strengthening of the American family, as well as mental health support.

The letter included several reflections from Pope Francis on the “globalization of indifference,” “money that is drenched in blood,” and the brokenheartedness that today’s gun violence brings upon us. “Bipartisanship is never more important than when it is required to protect life,” the letter’s final paragraph to Congress begins. 

The Bishop of Spokane put Spokane on the gun control map in signing this letter. Where do other local Catholics stand on the matter?

Rev. Jeff Core / Contributed

The Rev. Jeff Core is pastor at Holy Family Church in Clarkston, Washington. He’s also a gun owner — and a member of the NRA. And he is also horrified by the gun violence ending lives across the nation. But, he believes in the Second Amendment as a right for civilians to protect themselves against tyranny, not just for hunting. He says that equating gun violence to gun owners is like equating drunk driving with car owners. He thinks people with criminal histories, mental illness and other signs of irresponsibility should not have guns, but he does not think that wrongdoing by gun means there should be gun limitations in the U.S. 

Core wants gun owners to properly train and educate themselves, and their families. But he thinks the deeper problem behind gun violence is the relationship with human life itself. He says the problem is within the hearts of the nation. 

“Through abortion, through assisted suicide, through various moves to legalize euthanasia, that sort of thing, we’ve numbed ourselves to what a human being is. We’ve so cheapened the gift of human life, that it’s no surprise to me that this is how young people are settling their scores,” Core said. 

He is concerned about the glorification of gang violence, and fear turning hearts dark. In his eyes, guns are an important part of self-defense, and are often used to stop people from doing terrible things. In the eyes of God, and the Catholic Church, he says, people are good, but not everyone accepts that goodness. Some reject it. And Core does not think guns are to blame for such.

He adds that Bishop Daly was shocked to find out that Core carries a firearm in his car with him when he’s out and about on the road, just in case. 

“I thank God I have never had the occasion even to move my hand toward it for any reason, and I’ve been doing that for 12 years now,” Fr. Core says. 

He said that he respects the bishop’s position on prudent gun ownership, and that the topic takes a reasoned approach. The letter to Congress, however, Core feels is “part of the problem.” 

“What are we going to do? Or what are we doing?” Core said. “For me, the doing is promoting holiness. A holy person can carry a gun twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and never use it for anything other than good. It’s not a matter of the tool. It’s a matter of the attitude. I wish that every gun owner were a responsible gun owner.”

As a person, Core, a priest with guns, might be a rarity. One of Core’s friends, another local priest and pastor, thinks that while his good friend Core is very different from him in that regard, Core is “the most gentle guy in the world.” 

Rev. Patrick Kerst / Contributed

But, the Rev. Patrick Kerst, pastor of Saint Thomas More Parish, does have a different view on gun control. 

“Take all the guns, and there are still going to be horrible things like this happening. But I bet if there weren’t guns around, there wouldn’t be as many,” he said.

Kerst grew up in the Spokane Valley. He says his corner of the world is relatively quiet and peaceful, and that while he’s noticed the rise in domestic violence, violent crime and drug trafficking in recent years — and acknowledges that gun violence still occurs in the Spokane area, including, of course, the Freeman school shooting where 15-year-old Caleb Sharpe killed Sam Strahan in 2017 — for the Spokane community, gun control is ”just not something that really comes up. In my limited worldview, I’d say it’s not a burning issue [in Spokane].” 

Core, as a gun owner, thinks about guns, while Kerst doesn’t need to think about them very often. But what comes up for both of them, in speaking on the topic of gun control, is the division in the country’s political environment and government. 

“A big Catholic theme is the common good. It’s not just my good and your good, but what’s good for all of us — which is, I think, in the heart of things supposed to be the task of civic government,” Kerst said. But, “that’s kind of gone by the wayside, a distortion of what the government’s supposed to be about: Politicians that, the day they swear into office, is the day they start running for re-election, instead of the hard work of governing well.” 

Core says that he used to be able to have a conversation with somebody that disagreed with him, but those days seem to be in the past. 

“You just can’t talk about these things anymore, because if I disagree with you, ‘I hate you.’ If you disagree with me, ‘You’re evil.’ And that might be the case, I don’t know, but if we maintain that as the way, then there’s no hope for us. We might as well cash in the cash in the country and call it good,” he said.

Both of these Catholic priests want peace, the common good and for human beings to relate and live with each other in goodness and harmony. Bishop Daly has signified with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops letter that he believes the common good calls for stricter gun control; Rev. Kerst seems to agree with his bishop. The. Rev. Core does not believe limiting guns will help an ailing humanity to become any less violent, but that halting gun violence must come from within the individual, and changing society’s relationship with human life itself. 

Spokane leaders have been discussing an uptick in gun violence this past year, and in August, the community saw Caleb Sharpe sentenced to 40 years in prison for the shooting he carried out in nearby Freeman. The issue of gun violence is certainly not null in the area. But even leaders of the same faith disagree on how to address the matter, while keeping the same goal of human flourishing.

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