WASHINGTON — Several U.S. Catholic bishops expressed sorrow and called out racism and gun violence after a mass shooting May 14 in Buffalo, New York, left at least three injured and 10 dead, all of whom were Black.
Authorities said the shooter, who was white, was motivated by hatred for Black people.
In a separate shooting at a Presbyterian church in Laguna Woods, California, May 15, a gunman killed one person and wounded five. The suspect in that shooting was targeting members of the Taiwanese community, Orange County officials said.
In one of the most powerful statements condemning the violence that took place when a gunman opened fire on a Saturday afternoon at a supermarket in Buffalo, Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, said May 15, “Faith compels us to say no to the rotten forces of racism, no to terror, and no to the mortal silencing of Black and brown voices.”
Bishop Mark E. Brennan of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, also spoke up against what has been categorized not just as violence but one colored with chilling racism.
“The tragedy in Buffalo is hardly the first such violence against African Americans. … Racism has claimed an inordinate number of Black lives simply because they were Black. When and how will it stop?” he wrote shortly after the attack.
Responding to both incidents, Chieko Noguchi, director of public affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the U.S. bishops were calling for an honest dialogue “addressing the persistent evil of racism in our country.”
“The Catholic Church has been a consistent voice for rational yet effective forms of regulation of dangerous weapons, and the
USCCB continues to advocate for an end to violence, and for the respect and dignity of all lives,” she said. “We pray for and support the healing of the communities impacted and for all the victims of violence and that Christ’s peace be upon all affected.”
Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski issued a statement on social media praying for the victims in New York, California and other places. He said, “May they and those who love them be comforted by Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, who grieves at the loss of every sacred, unrepeatable life. I am especially troubled by reports that the Buffalo violence was racially motivated. We must pray fervently together that God continues to open and change hearts until we are able to recognize all as our brothers and sisters, each one deserving of dignity, respect and life.”
In Buffalo, Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn said in a May 14 statement that 18-year-old suspect Payton S. Gendron, of Conklin, New York, “who was allegedly wearing tactical gear and armed with an assault weapon” when he entered the supermarket at around 2:30 p.m., has been charged with first-degree murder and remains in custody without bail. Gendron entered a plea of “not guilty.”
News reports said authorities have pointed to a 180-page online document the suspect is alleged to have left behind, filled with racist views and details of his plan of attack. There also are reports that he strapped equipment to the top of a tactical helmet he was wearing so he could livestream the shooting. He also allegedly wrote about conspiracy theories, saying some groups are trying to replace white people in the U.S. with people of color.
“The scourge of senseless gun violence that has taken the lives of so many across our nation and changed the lives of countless innocent men, women and children must come to an end,” Bishop Michael W. Fisher of Buffalo said in a statement posted on Twitter shortly after the mass shooting.
In a later statement he condemned the racist attack, saying, “Faith compels us to reject the abject evil of racism and white supremacy, and to say ‘no’ to terror, and ‘no’ to the intent to silence” the voices of Blacks and other people of color.
The Erie district attorney’s office said the “defendant drove” more than three hours to a Tops supermarket located in a predominantly Black section of Buffalo, “with the intent to commit a crime.”
Other bishops, too, reached out with messages of solidarity.
Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany, New York, said: “News of the shootings in Buffalo brought me great sorrow and moved my heart to reach out to the people I remember so well and have come to love during the year I was present to them. I urge you to join me in prayer.”
He was apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Buffalo from December 2019 to January 2021.