In aftermath of Tucson shooting: We must work for respect for life and civility in public discourse Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler, editor   
Thursday, Jan. 13, 2011 -- 1:00 AM

We’ve all heard the old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” This saying was meant to convey the idea that people cannot really hurt you by what they say, only by what they do physically.

As we reflect this week on the mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz., that killed six people and wounded 14 others, we realize that both parts of that saying are true. Physical violence, of course, does cause harm. But words can also hurt people and perhaps lead to physical violence.

We don’t know the full story behind why the alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, decided to shoot U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords while she was meeting with some of her constituents outside a supermarket in Tucson.

Catholics among the dead and wounded

We do know Giffords was seriously wounded and six innocent bystanders were killed. As a Catholic News Service (CNS) story reported, one of those killed was U.S. District Court Judge John M. Roll, 63, the chief judge of the Tucson federal court. He had stopped by the shopping center to see Giffords on his way home from morning Mass at St. Thomas the Apostle Church.

Bill Badger, one of several people who tackled the shooter to stop his rampage, despite his own gunshot wound, also is active in the parish he shared with the judge.

CNS reported that nine-year-old Christina Green came to meet Giffords with a neighbor because she was so interested in civics, having just been elected to the student council at Mesa Verde Elementary School. The third-grader also was part of a children’s choir at St. Odilia Parish, a few blocks from the shooting scene where a healing and remembrance Mass was scheduled for January 11.

Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas planned to preside at a Mass for the Healing of Our Community, Remembrance of Those Who Have Died, and for the Consolation of All Victims and Their Families at St. Odilia Church, where Christina Green made her first Communion last spring.

Violence is escalating

Such senseless loss of life causes all of us to stop and think about what might have caused the shooter to act. We do know that violence seems to be escalating in our country and throughout the world. Besides war and armed conflicts, we hear about gang violence, car jackings, and armed robberies.

We also know that our country and other nations have legalized abortion and assisted suicide. Embryonic stem cells are being used for scientific research.

Respect for life seems to be forgotten by so many.

In addition to the physical violence, verbal warfare also wages in political campaigns and legislative rhetoric. People who oppose each other are considered opponents and targets to be taken down. They are vilified for thinking a different way. We have lost respect for life and human dignity. We have lost much civility in public discourse.

Call to respect human life

What can we do to regain respect for life and civility? Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, renewed the bishops’ call for respect for human life in the wake of the Arizona shooting. “Our prayers and concern are with those immediately affected by this violence,” said Archbishop Dolan. “We commend to God those who have died and we pray for the families who lost loved ones and for those who are suffering from their wounds. We also pray for the person who committed these acts and those who are responsible for his care.”

Prayer is something we can all do. We must pray that people will recover a respect for life and will not resort to violence in word or deed.

Archbishop Dolan also cautioned against drawing “any hasty conclusion about the motives of the assailant until we know more from law enforcement authorities.” The archbishop added that “violence of any kind must be condemned. When the target of a violent act is a public official, it shakes the confidence of the nation in its ability to protect its leaders and those who want to participate in the democratic process.”

Fortunately, members of Congress seem to be uniting in protesting this mass shooting. Perhaps this will help our elected officials work together in more civility and respect for differences.

This should be a time when we all join together in prayer and resolve to condemn violence of every kind. We must work in concert with people of all religious and political beliefs to protect human life and promote civility.