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Catholic bishops react to White terrorism attack in Buffalo

Following a deadly mass shooting targeting African Americans in upstate New York, Catholic bishops respond—drawing mixed reactions.

Fr. Rob Wozniak, pastor of St. Pius X Catholic Church in Getzville, New York, kneels across from the site of Saturday's deadly mass shooting in Buffalo. (Seth Harrison/The Journal News)

BUFFALO, N.Y. — In the wake of the latest deadly mass shooting on American soil, a White terrorism attack on Saturday involving 18-year-old Payton S. Gendron killing several African Americans at a grocery store in Buffalo, reactions have emerged from Catholic organizations and leaders from around the country—including a number of bishops.

The Bishop of Buffalo, Michael W. Fisher, released a statement on Twitter Saturday night, calling the attack “abhorrently evil”—while making no mention of racism, despite the shooter posting a 180-page White Supremacist manifesto before the attack.

“I, in the strongest of terms, condemn this utterly senseless act and pray for the victims and all those impacted by this act of cowardice,” Fisher wrote.

“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.”

Saturday’s shooting was at least the second mass shooting occurring in Buffalo during Fisher’s tenure, which began in January 2021.

Last June, a drive-by near SS. Columba-Brigid Catholic Church—a parish with a significant Black population—injured four people and sent a bullet through the friary wall.

It does not appear that Fisher issued a statement in response to that shooting, and his apparent reticence to address racism in his latest release has garnered criticism from a number of Black Catholics.

Saturday’s assailant is known to have pre-meditated the shooting in response to anti-Black conspiracy theories. During his livestream of the murders on Twitch, a hand-written rendering of the n-word can be seen on the barrel of his semi-automatic rifle.

As such, a number of Fisher’s fellow bishops, including Robert J. Brennan of Brooklyn, spoke of the shooting in much stronger terms.

“Let us pray for an end to hate, violence and racism in our country and in the world,” said Brennan in a statement on Sunday.

The New York State Catholic Conference (NYSCC), a body made up of the state’s active bishops, also condemned the shooting along racial lines, retweeting a number of Twitter posts that called out the anti-Black animus behind the act.

In a statement also released on Sunday, Catholic Charities of Buffalo called the shooting “hate-fueled” and announced a virtual prayer service for the victims on Tuesday, May 17th at 7pm ET.

“We condemn all acts of violence and racism. They have no room in our community, our city, our world,” they said.

“In the face of hatred and divisiveness, our love and care for one another is our greatest strength.”

Perhaps the strongest reaction from any bishop came from Mark E. Brennan of Wheeling-Charleston in West Virginia, who released a two-page statement.

“Of all inhabitants in this country, Black Americans have suffered the most from centuries of slavery, legal and de facto segregation and socio-economic patterns that have burdened their lives up to and including the present,” he said.

“Racism has claimed an inordinate number of Black lives simply because they were Black. When and how will it stop?”

Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso—known as the first US bishop to protest (and kneel) in support of the Black Lives Matter movement after the murder of George Floyd—also spoke out on the shooting.

“Racism and white supremacy continue to strike our society deeply and reverberate widely,” he said in his statement.

“Faith compels us to say no to the rotten forces of racism, no to terror, and no to the mortal silence of black and brown voices.”

Another Texas prelate, Archbishop Gustavo Garcia Siller, MSpS of San Antonio—who wrote a full statement and commented on Twitter—also called out racism in the shooting and connected the issue to the pro-life cause.

The Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary, the largest Black Catholic organization in the United States, responded with a public statement condemning the attack as “evil and racist”.

“We condemn the thought and ideologies that encourage horrific and sinful actions against God's children,” they said.

As of Monday morning, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has yet to issue its own statement on the shooting, instead resharing statements from the NYSCC and Bishop Fisher. The former also does not mention racism or White Supremacy.

The conference has issued several statements in recent years on gun control, and has supported calls for universal background checks, a federal gun trafficking bill, regulations on the sale of handguns, mental health interventions, and a ban on assault weapons.

Their last such statement came nearly a year ago, in response to a mass shooting in San Jose. The conference's latest email communication was a call for donations to the Catholic Communication Campaign, sent out Monday morning.

Update (5/16): Added statements from an additional bishop and the Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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