IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn
By Carol Zimmermann
WASHINGTON (CNS) — The Nov. 5 deadly shootings at the First
Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, left many people wondering
how something so horrific could happen in a place of worship.
called to mind other shootings or attacks in recent years in sacred spaces, including
the nine people killed in 2015 at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in
Charleston, South Carolina, the murder of a priest in northern France during
Mass last year, and violent acts at synagogues and mosques.
same day as the Texas church shooting when 26 people were killed and more than
20 were wounded, another shooting already had taken place in the parking lot of
a Catholic church in Fresno, California. After a 7:30 a.m. Mass at St.
Alphonsus Church, a man shot his estranged wife and her boyfriend in a car. The
woman died from the gunshot wound and the man died from his wounds later at the hospital. The shooter
fled the scene and took his own life.
Rajappa, the parish priest who had been greeting people after Mass when the
shots were fired, told a local television reporter the church decided not to
cancel other Masses that morning and prayed for the victims during each Mass.
Chinn, a church security consultant in Colorado Springs, Colorado, keeps tabs
on attacks at places of worship and says incidents of violence have increased
on religious properties in recent years.
from experience, not just research. In 1996, he was taken hostage with three
others when he was a building engineer for Focus on the Family, a Christian multimedia
organization in Colorado Springs. No one was injured, but the experience changed
his life and brought him to his current ministry, as he describes it.
Chinn also was part of a response team at New Life Church in Colorado Springs in 2007
when a man killed two people and injured three others when he started shooting
outside the church after a Sunday service.
written a book on church security and gives seminars around the country about
it. He said Catholics sometimes attend, but not too often, and he said the idea
of implementing church security measures seems to be the decision of individual
church leadership. More often than not, he said, “they have not grasped
the need for it or made it a priority.”
churches to put together volunteer security teams to focus, almost like federal
air marshals, on keeping an eye out for anything unusual, or anything “dlg,”
which is security lingo for “don’t look good.”
urges churches to keep their security plan simple — “not something that
would fill up a three-ring binder.” The security team can be the “eye
and ears” of the church — armed if they can be — and properly trained.
Chinn spoke with Catholic News Service Nov. 8, he was in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in
the parking lot of the First Baptist Church, the crime scene still marked with
yellow police tape. He spent the past two days there talking with people who
wonder what went wrong and how to move on.
Meeks, who runs a church security ministry called Sheepdog Seminars, based in
Fort Worth, Texas, also was spending a few days in Sutherland Springs on the ground talking
CNS the difficult thing for many people to grasp is why God didn’t protect them
since they were at the church to pray. One woman he spoke to said she lost her
faith after her aunt and uncle were killed in the church that day.
church leaders should protect their congregations. He has been getting nonstop
calls about how to do this since the Texas shooting, but he also knows
interest in such measures will decrease in a few weeks.
doesn’t get calls from Catholics. And as he put it: “They very seldom
show up” at his seminars.
doesn’t mean Catholics aren’t thinking about church safety.
Mary Tichy, associate director
for the Conference for Catholic facility management in St. Louis, said
in a Nov. 9 email that the group’s upcoming conference in April will include an
education track on security. She also said she is aware of the security measures in place
at some Catholic churches and diocesan offices.
A Nov. 6
story in the Chicago Tribune said that in the past year, hundreds of
congregations have joined a coalition called Secure Church Chicago, a regional
working group of Protestant, Catholic and Jewish clergy and volunteers who want
to take a proactive, professional and pastoral approach to church safety.
ran a photo of a former Chicago police officer who is the public safety
director for St Peter’s Catholic Church in Chicago. It also quoted the church’s
pastor, Franciscan Father Kurt
Hartrich, as saying he doesn’t know what more he can do to keep his
parishioners safe since “they already have to cross two thresholds and
pass muster with security guards before they can enter the worship space.”
Archdiocese said in a Nov. 6 statement that it is “committed to seeing that our parishes, schools and
ministries take appropriate steps to ensure the safety and security of
parishioners, staff, volunteers and visitors. This is especially relevant considering recent
tragic events and the current environment in which we live.”
It said parishes and schools “work with their local safety
and security advisory committees, staff, volunteers and local responders to be prepared and vigilant” and do this “in
consultation with the Archdiocesan Office of Risk Management.”
“We are welcoming
communities of faith committed to being of service to the mission of the church
while recognizing the challenges our entire society faces in these turbulent
times,” the statement added. “We continue to
pray for all impacted by the tragedy in Sutherland Springs.”
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Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.
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