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Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Bet on the shotgun.

Yet another skirmish in the culture wars.

A Canon from the Church of NPR weighs in on a dispute over a Catholic fundraiser that raffles off--eek--a shotgun, in a misleadingly-titled piece called Pitting "Gospel" Against 12-Gauge In Hyattsville. [Quotation marks added by your host for accuracy]

A case study in oily condescension, WaPo columnist Marc Fisher clearly informs the reader, via "BOO" and "APPLAUSE" signs, who is on the side of the angels, and who should be cast into the outer darkness. As is the case in 99% of such columns, he manages to be both smug and invincibly ignorant. I think there's an "autopilot" button for that these days.

Full disclosure: I own a Mossberg Model 500A. Mine ran upwards of $450 by the time I walked out the door of the Depraved Paranoid Death Arsenal For Maladjusted Theocrats (more commonly called a "gun store") in 1993. Anyway, here's the annotated column:

Each year on the Saturday before Father's Day, members of St. Jerome's Catholic Church in Hyattsville join with others from around town for lunch, fellowship, shooting contests and a gun raffle.

The idea is to raise money for kids in Hyattsville who need good sports activities to keep them off the streets and out of gangs.

The nerve of those bastards.

The raffle has drawn bigger crowds and collected more money -- $30,000 in three years -- than your average church fundraiser.

Why can't you have bingo like St. Elvis de Vegas over in Sharpsburg?

But some Catholics in Hyattsville believe that guns and God do not belong in the same building, nor in the same collection basket.

Some Catholics will believe anything. Years of "glitter and construction paper" catechism have that effect.

That's why the people of St. Jerome's parish have been divided for four years. It's why Peggy and Pat Alexander and several others have left the church.

You left the Faith over...a gun raffle. Way to pick up that cross. Care for more brie with that whine? But don't worry, there's more about the inspiring Alexanders.

It's why the Alexanders are not on speaking terms with their neighbor across the street, John Aquilino, who came up with the gun raffle. And it's why even the cardinal has sought to draw lines between the need for money and the demands of faith.

"It's pretty painful," says Peggy Alexander, who now worships over at the Episcopal church. "To be 52 and a lifelong Catholic and to feel so betrayed by the church that you've grown up in -- it's hard."

Our mustache-twisting villain enters, stage right.

Unlike our remarkably uncurious columnist, I have a question for the models of heroic sanctity that go by the name of Pat-n-Peg Alexander: I could be wrong, being unfamiliar with the layout of the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, but I was under the impression--perhaps mistaken, mind you--that it had more than one parish. Please excuse the following blog hiatus: I'll be going away now to do some difficult and arcane research.

OK, I'm back.

I am pleased to report that there appear to be upwards of three or four parishes in the Archdiocese. Whew. I have to take a nap after that. "Moo goo gai pan. I'm beat."


It's even more "painful" suffering through the half-assed rationalizations of spiritual nimrods, let me tell you. Something does not compute.

Aquilino sees no spiritual issue here. He knows that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, favors gun control, but Aquilino sees that as the position of a member of the church hierarchy, not of the faith itself.

Which, "sadly," makes our dastardly villain 100% correct. On both counts.

Aquilino set out to do something about the tattered uniforms of Catholic Youth Organization sports teams. An ordinary raffle might raise $100.


But Hyattsville is not far from the Prince George's County Trap and Skeet Center, where gun enthusiasts practice and take lessons.

Read: Maryland Militia & Domestic Terrorist Training Centre.

A fundraiser there, with a gun giveaway, might get the kids the support they need.

Aquilino is also a gun activist, prominent in groups that campaign for gun rights. But he says he sought only to help the neighborhood children.

"We just want to raise money and have fun," he says. "My 77-year-old mother shot a shotgun at our event last year for the first time in her life, and she loved it. This is for people who enjoy firearms. I get a kick out of them. They're very calming."

Sure you do. Fascist. You're just waiting for the right moment for you and all your right-wing Christian Nazi gun buddies to rise up, slaughter Congress, and impose a theocracy where uppity womyn get turned into fetus incubators. But you're not fooling me: I've read The Handmaid's Tale.

BTW, Mr. Aquilino, way to rat out your mom. Next time she flies, the TSA will have her on the Mandatory Body Cavity Search list.

Aquilino knew that some parishioners were appalled by the use of guns to raise money for church activities. In 2001, 14 members of St. Jerome's asked the cardinal to intercede because the church accepted money raised at the skeet shoot, which their pastor, the Rev. James Stack, had said "was neither illegal nor immoral."

Of course, the Cardinal was rather nonplussed because the protesters were already Episcopalians, but hey...

Wonder of Wonders note: the pastor was 100% correct.

Stack had told Aquilino's group that it couldn't use St. Jerome's name in connection with the gun raffle. So Aquilino and friends created the independent Catholic Sportsmen's Organization, which donated money from the gun event to parish activities.

"In this urban area, it is not appropriate for church-sponsored groups to be giving away guns," the letter to the cardinal said.

The cardinal decided that the sportsmen's group could raise money for St. Jerome's only if the events are not "related in any way to the use or sale of guns."

"Urban area"--well, you know how "those people" are with guns...

The priest's compromise--refusing name association with the parish--was probably correct under these circumstances, and a reasonable compromise. But the cardinal's cave was ridiculous. Something tells me that this kind of flyspecking doesn't happen with other sources of funds. Like, say, Catholic Bob the Party Store owner, who sells more copies of Juggs per annum than anyone else in the entire state. They're on the rack right next to the icon of the Sacred Heart.

But, guns and The Enthusiasts Who Own Them are way way ickier than that.

But that didn't settle the issue. Even if formal ties between the sportsmen's group and St. Jerome's were cut, gun opponents say the link remains strong. Sportsmen's group members wear T-shirts with gun images to church events.

Much worse than the Mudvayne shirt and flipflops the critics' kids wore to Mass last week.

And St. Jerome's activities still accept money from the sportsmen, who say they only give the church funds raised from non-gun events.

Can't take 'em at their word, though. They killed Bambi's mom!

How the church separates itself from the gun group hardly matters. What divides St. Jerome's is the larger issue -- whether those who believe in the church's rejection of the gun culture can coexist with those who say they can be good Catholics and still enjoy guns.

The Church hasn't "rejected" your caricature of the "gun culture," Canon Fisher. It doesn't deny the right to legitimate ownership. Sorry to inform you, but good Catholics can indeed enjoy gun ownership. They can even enjoy the Washington Post. Granted, they'll have to skip some columns, but it's doable.

"We're not looking for a fight with the church," Aquilino says. "But this smacks of the same sort of intolerance and prejudice that racism is built from."

OK, John, don't whine. America has enough people queued up for designation as an Official Victim. Bear up, shrug, be a man about it, and ignore the slings and arrows.

No, says Alexander, "it's a moral issue. It's about putting more guns out on the street. It's against the life-affirming doctrine that the Catholic Church preaches."

But you're an Episcopalian now....

And so now, in Hyattsville, because some people cannot get beyond their fascination with guns and some people actually believe the words of their faith's commandments, Sunday is a day for staring across a deep divide.

"Anathema sit!" shouts Canon Fisher. Of course, the "fascination" with guns cuts both ways. It's just not acknowledged by the likes of Fisher and the newly-minted Episcopalians. Their fascination is one that regards guns as unstoppable death totems that turn Normal People Like Them into hootin' 'n' hollerin' knuckle-draggers a half-step removed from wearing shrunken heads on a necklace.

People like me.

Memo to columnists: Next time you want to know what the Church teaches, try to avoid consulting with embittered ex-Catholics. I mean, if they actually "believed the words of their faith's commandments," wouldn't they still be Catholic? These little omissions tend to skew the story a tad. Unless that's the idea.

[Thanks to Greg Krehbiel for the link]

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