The sheep and shepherds metaphor is a central one in Christianity. It is found in both the Old Testament and the New: “Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, (Isa. 40:11),” “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want . . . He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake (Ps. 23:1-6).” And Christ said of Himself, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep . . . I know My own and My own know Me . . . and I lay down My life for the sheep (John 10:11-14)”
From its beginning the Catholic Church has based the hierarchy’s role on Christ’s model of The Good Shepherd and his three commands to Peter: “Tend My lambs . . . Shepherd My sheep . . . Tend My sheep” (John 21: 15-17). To this day, every bishop is appointed as shepherd of a flock (congregation) and carries, among other symbols, a pastoral staff. Understandably, the image of bishops as good and faithful shepherds of Christians is well ingrained in our culture.
But Scripture also contains warnings of unfaithful shepherds: “My people have become lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray (Jer. 50:6),” “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture!” (Jer. 23:1), “My shepherds did not search for My flock, but rather the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock” (Ezek. 34:8), and “Woe to my worthless shepherd, who leaves the flock!” (Zech. 11:17).
Alas, on some important issues, the behavior of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) suggests either unfaithfulness or (to be more charitable) confusion about their obligation. The most recent example is their responses to the violence in El Paso TX and in Dayton OH, both of which occurred, hours apart, on August 3, 2019. First some background:
The El Paso shooter left a manifesto that explained his attack as follows: “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas. They are the instigators, not me. I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion.” He also expressed anger over “race mixing.” Such statements make clear he was motivated by RIGHT wing ideology. It is noteworthy, however, that he made clear that he did not get his views from President Trump: “My ideology has not changed for several years. My opinions on automation, immigration, and the rest predate Trump and his campaign for president.”
The Dayton shooter had a Twitter account with over 3000 tweets. For example, he said, “I want socialism, and I’ll not wait for the idiots to finally come round to understanding,” attacked ICE agents and the police, denounced immigrant detention centers as “concentration camps” (the same term used by Alexandria Oasio-Cortez), and supported the left-wing group Antifa. He also favored impeaching President Trump. Without question, the Dayton shooter was far-LEFT in his views.
The response of Democrats and the media were virtually identical—near-silence about the Far-Left Dayton shooting, but loud condemnation of the Far-Right El Paso shooting, linking it to the allegedly hate-filled, xenophobic rhetoric and bigotry of President Trump and his administration. No surprise there. To Democrats and the media, murder by someone on the Right is almost always a despicable act encouraged by hateful conservatives whereas the same act by someone on the Left is simply tragic.
One might have hoped the Catholic shepherds, for the good of their flock and the nation, would have responded without partisanship in a way designed to overcome division and promote mutual respect. But their actual responses—they offered a separate response for each shooting—dashed that hope.
Bishops’ Response to the Dayton Shooting, August 4[THE LEAD-IN} President of United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice Issues a Statement After a Tragic Shooting in Dayton, Ohio [THE STATEMENT] We extend our condolences to the families and friends of those murdered in Dayton last night. 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. God’s mercy and wisdom compel us to move toward preventative action. 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. We call on all relevant committees of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to outline a reinvigorated policy agenda and pastoral campaign to address ways we can help fight this social disease that has infected our nation. The Conference has long advocated for responsible gun laws and increased resources for addressing the root causes of violence. We also call upon the President and Congress to set aside political interests and find ways to better protect innocent life.
Bishops’ Response to the El Paso shooting, August 8[THE LEAD-IN] In Wake of Horrific, Hate Filled Violence in El Paso, USCCB Migration Chairman, Domestic Social Development Chairman, and Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on Racism Call for Change in Language and Rhetoric of All Americans
Today, Bishops from three committees at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) expressed their deep concern about racism and xenophobia that apparently motivated this weekend’s massacre in El Paso and that have motivated numerous other recent mass shootings in the United States. The Chairmen called on our elected officials to exert leadership in seeking to heal the wounds that these shootings have caused and to deal with the scourges of racism, xenophobia, and religious bigotry, including refraining from expressing hurtful, painful, and divisive rhetoric that dehumanizes and polarizes people on the basis of their race, religion, ethnicity, or national origin.[THE STATEMENT] 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 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. Hatred and harsh rhetoric were echoed in the El Paso shooter’s explanation about why he committed this weekend’s shooting, as well as being 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 in 2015. 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. Instead, we ask our leaders and all Americans to work to unite us as a great, diverse, and welcoming people.
I have added boldface to make clear the difference between the two statements, a difference so dramatic that it raises troubling questions.
Why did the Bishops respond to the Dayton shooting on August 4, the day after it happened, but to El Paso on August 8, five days after it happened, when both shootings occurred within hours of each other?
Given the time frame, why did the Bishops not make a single statement condemning both shootings rather than separate and very different statements?
- Why did the El Paso statement include a reference to the 2015 Charleston violence and the 2018 Pittsburgh violence but exclude any reference to the more related (in time) Dayton violence?
- Why were the language and tone of the two statements so different? More specifically, why did the Bishops describe the Left-wing violence (Dayton) in general, unemotional terms—“a tragic shooting,” “an epidemic,” and a “social disease” without any reference to cause(s), but the Right-wing violence (El Paso) in very specific, highly emotional, even inflammatory language, including “horrific, hate-filled, racism, xenophobia, hurtful, painful, divisive, dehumanizes, polarizes, anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, demeans, divides, motivates, horrific violence?
- Was it a coincidence that virtually all of the emotional, inflammatory words the Bishops chose for the El Paso statement are identical to those Democrats and the mainstream media have used against President Trump for more than two years? Would it be fair to conclude that the Bishops intended the El Paso statement to lend support to Democrats’ and mainstream media’s political views? In other words, to stoke hatred of Trump?
- Why haven’t the Bishops issued similar statements about cities that have had not just one violent episode but a recurring pattern of murders for decades, cities like Chicago which has averaged over 400 murders annually for over 30 years, or Detroit, Baltimore, Oakland, Memphis, St. Louis, Cleveland, Newark, Milwaukee, Birmingham, all in the top ten for murder (and all historically Democrat-run)?
On close examination, Bishops’ responses to the Dayton and El Paso shootings reveal a bias for Democrats—even Left-wing ones—over Republicans, especially the present occupant of the White House. Is that bias for Democrats and against Republicans reasonable, given Christ’s command to “Tend My lambs . . . Shepherd My sheep . . . Tend My sheep”? Let’s see:
Democrat leaders favor abortion up until birth, in some cases after birth. Most of them have embraced Socialism, totally or in large part. They continue to favor policies and programs that have done more harm than good—for example, policies that have created several generations of one-parent families, led to high unemployment, educational decline, minority unemployment, and inner city crime and decay. As if that were not enough, they have frequently disparaged religious values and undermined traditional religious expression and practice.
In sharp contrast, President Trump opposes abortion and has appointed judges who share that opposition. He also categorically rejects Socialism, has proposed and/or implemented programs to strengthen families, improve education, create jobs for minorities, and make inner cities safe. Among his achievements in little over two years has been the elevation of Black and Hispanic employment to their highest levels in forty or more years. He has also taken on the challenge of controlling illegal immigration, which his three immediate predecessors have only made empty promises about. All this while demonstrating respect for religious values and practice.
Clearly, what President Trump has been doing is more Christian and more beneficial for the American people than what Democrats have done in recent decades or are promising to do now. Yet the Bishops give clear indication that they still support the Democrats and oppose the President. It is hard to imagine that the Holy Spirit inspired their position because it defies both theology and logic. For them to maintain it, I submit, will violate their sacred obligation to “shepherd” Catholics and likely cause further disillusion and alienation.
Copyright © 2019 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved