Disturbing trends of violence in society should prompt both policy examinations and cultural changes, said committee leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“It is time for our nation to renew a culture of life in our society,” said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City and Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
The prelates, who lead the U.S. bishops' committees on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Communications; and Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, respectively, released a Dec. 21 statement responding to a recent mass shooting.
They urged a re-consideration of national firearm policies, mental health treatment availability and violence in the entertainment industry, as well as broader efforts to restore the value that society places on human life.
On Dec. 14, a gunman identified as 20-year-old Adam Lanza opened fire on teachers and students at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. He killed 27 people – including his mother and 20 elementary school students – before taking his own life.
Offering a message of comfort and peace, the bishops extended their prayerful solidarity to all those affected by the “horrific evil.”
“No words can capture your suffering,” they acknowledged. “We look to Christ, his words and deeds, and ultimately to his Cross and Resurrection. It is in Jesus that we place our hope.”
To counter such violent acts, America’s elected leaders should consider reasonable limits on firearms that do not infringe upon people’s rights, the bishops said. While they acknowledged that “the intent to protect one's loved ones is an honorable one,” they added that “guns are too easily accessible.”
The bishops reiterated the call made in their 2000 statement, “Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice,” for legislation aimed at protecting society “from the violence associated with easy access to deadly weapons including assault weapons.”
The voiced their support for the “sensible regulations of handguns,” such as “measures that control the sale and use of firearms” and efforts to prevent their unauthorized use.
The bishops also encouraged an evaluation of the impact that violent movies and video games have on the culture.
Entertainers should recognize that when their products glorify violence, they also “prey on the insecurities and immaturity of our young people,” they said.
“Such portrayals of violence have desensitized all of us,” they added, stressing that society must acknowledge the “emotional, psychological and spiritual effects” that these entertainment products have on people.
In addition, the bishops highlighted the need to address society’s treatment of those with mental illnesses. Recognizing the “pervasive role of addiction and mental illness in crime,” they encouraged reflection on social fears and prejudices toward those with special mental health needs.
Emphasizing the importance of sensitivity and support, they also urged the removal of “burdensome healthcare policies” that prevent those in need from receiving help.
“There is no shame in seeking help for oneself or others,” they said, “the only shame is in refusing to provide care and support.”
The bishops called on Catholics and “all people of goodwill to help bring about a culture of life and peace.”
“The events in Newtown call us to turn to our Lord in prayer and to witness more profoundly Christ's perfect love, mercy and compassion,” they stressed. “We must confront violence with love.”