Dead Priests, Dead Babies, Guns, Cars, Accidents, Guilt & Absolution

Dead Priests, Dead Babies, Guns, Cars, Accidents, Guilt & Absolution June 19, 2014

The death of Fr. Kenneth Walker has opened back up the discussion about whether priests ought to carry firearms for self-defense. Fr. Z addressed the question back in 2013 with a firm, “I don’t have a formed opinion on this,” observing only that canon law does not prohibit and civil law ought to permit.

As a resident of gunlandia, I plead inability to think objectively about these things.  If I lived in a time and place where the prevailing form of government was “blood feud,” I’d think pretty highly of disarming the clergy and anyone else I could.  Instead I live in the kind of place where my teen shoots dinner, butchers it, puts in the freezer, and pulls it out come summer to cook a delectable stroganoff.  The thought that he might grow up to be a stroganoff-deprived priest is beyond the scope of my imagination.  I guess his sister could hunt for him?

Meanwhile, a good friend recently linked to this 2009 article on the prosecution and suffering of parents who accidentally forget their baby is in the car, to fatal result.  The article is disturbingly graphic at points, so it might be better to skim.  You can no doubt think of other tragic accidents and incidents involving children you’ve known, or your friends have known.

The tendency in considering any of these terrible scenarios is to start in with the If Onlys and the I’d Nevers.  If only Father had been better trained, or not answered the door, or hadn’t been armed and had placated the robber.  I’d never forget my baby, I’d drive more carefully, I’d childproof my house better, I’d do this and that to make sure my baby was safe.

The world is not safe.  We can do things that make us safer, but we can’t do something to make us safe.


Trauma traumatizes.  No amount of “it was an accident” or “I did the best I could” can undo the normal response to horror, which is to grieve profoundly, and to think, endlessly, about how to avoid it in the future.

Still, when we consider our personal responsibility, we must resist the temptation to think ourselves omniscient.  “I should have known better than to . . .” “I never should have . . .” “If only I’d know that . . .”  Think of every near miss or terrible hit that you’ve experienced.  The second time, perhaps you knew better and recklessly proceeded anyhow.  But the first time?  Did you really know that was going to happen?  Really?

Probably not.

One of the reasons accidents happen is that we aren’t all-knowing.  We have the ability to reason and to plan, to think about what might happen and respond accordingly. But we can’t know everything.

To hold ourselves responsible for a lack of omniscience is to claim that we are gods.


Public policy is the personal writ large.  We know that bathtubs are usually safe and sometimes deadly . . . how shall we as a society proceed?  Cars are wickedly lethal, and yet we can’t imagine living without them.  What balance of safety regulations lets us benefit most while suffering least?  Those of us living in gunlandia know that we must be ruthlessly obsessive about gun safety and proper storage of weapons and ammunition, and yet we know that all the checks in the world won’t guarantee us perfect safety — but living without firearms doesn’t guarantee us perfect safety either.  We must prudently discern what is the best balance of risk and regulation based on the conditions in our homes and communities.

We must accept that because we are not omniscient, sometimes we will choose wrongly, even when we have done everything in our power to choose well.



Look here for the tutorial on double effect, which explains why you are allowed to have that deadly bathtub in your home, but you may not murder people with it.

Here is my post on when and how to confess, in which I observe that even though you might bear no blame at all for the tragic accident, going to confession and receiving absolution is a good way to assure yourself that you are forgiven whatever part — immense or microscopic — you might have played in the terrible event.

More confession stuff: Why catechists should mind their own business and not require students to publicly pre-confess their confessions.

Darwin Catholic, my go-to man for statistical tear downs, takes a look at the school shooting data here, and concludes you are not a negligent parent if you send your child to school.

And here’s a great novel by Michelle Buckman about the marital and psychological fallout of a fatal baby-left-in-car incident.  Not my usual genre, but I read it and loved it.  Beautiful story, riveting, sap- and sugar-free.

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