Monsignor Pope, in one of his recent blog posts, talked about how we, as Christians, should be moving toward becoming peacemakers above violence. He was discussing violent video games. But the principle applies here, too. While we have a RIGHT to defend ourselves from aggression, crime, and persecution, we see from the example of the martyrs that what we should aspire to is martyrdom, detachment from lower goods, and seeking the Kingdom and to make peace.
The USCCB is a group of the successors of the Apostles. Canon 753 states:
Although the bishops who are in communion with the head and members of the college, whether individually or joined together in conferences of bishops or in particular councils, do not possess infallibility in teaching, they are authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the Christian faithful entrusted to their care; the Christian faithful are bound to adhere with religious submission of mind to the authentic magisterium of their bishops.
As Father Sotelo said it better than I could:
However, insofar as your local bishop, who is Christ for you spiritually, and is the authority of Christ over you, has joined himself to the conference of bishops, you can't just "blow off" or ignore whatever the conference says.
Your local bishop, by deliberating at the conference and co-publishing its teaching documents as an extension of his teaching voice, has given the conference teaching authority by virtue of his presence there and his vote. It is a more "watered down" authority, than if the words come from the "horse's mouth" (your bishop), but it is real authority nonetheless.
So I find myself having to consider carefully and prayerfully what our Bishop's Conferences say, because my local bishop has participated in the proclomation. The Bishop's Conference has no authority of its own; it draws its authority from the member bishops, including my own.
Now, that said, we come to the question of Father Lombardi's comments. Unfortunately this is one of those areas where a Vatican "insider"'s comment would be helpful to understand the unofficial role of these editorials. I skimmed a few of his other editorials (and we know how effective my skimming is, eh, Grace?
) and none of them seem to be on controversial issues. So it seems unlikely that the Holy Father regularly uses his secretary's editorials as ways to disseminate his personal opinion on matters without putting the full weight of his office behind it. I believe that is the role of the "unsigned" editorials in L'Osservatore Romano, no?
That said, Benedict's head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace has said:
On the world stage, the Vatican has been pushing for decades for limitations not just on conventional weapons of warfare, such as tanks and missiles, but also for stricter limitations on the illegal and legal sale, trade and use of small firearms and weapons, said Tommaso Di Ruzza, the expert on disarmament and arms control at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
Di Ruzza told Catholic News Service that the Vatican is one of just a handful of states that would like to see small arms and weapons included in the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty, which would better regulate the flow of conventional arms.
He said while many countries are open to limits on larger weapons systems, most nations aren't interested in regulating small arms even though they "cause more deaths than all other arms (conventional and non-conventional) together."
The Vatican's justice and peace council is working to update its 1994 document, "The International Arms Trade," to further emphasize the importance of enacting concrete controls on handguns and light weapons, he said.
The current document calls on every nation and state "to impose a strict control on the sale of handguns and small arms. Limiting the purchase of such arms would certainly not infringe on the rights of anyone."
The more weapons there are in circulation, the more likely terrorists and criminals will get their hands on them, the document said.
The Catholic Church recognizes that "states will need to be armed for reason of legitimate defense," as Pope Benedict XVI said in a message to a Vatican-sponsored disarmament conference in April 2008.
However, armed defense is something appropriate for nations, not for all individual citizens in a state where rule of law is effective, said Di Ruzza.
My suspicion, and it's nothing more, is that the Vatican is subtly and slowly turning up the call for gun control on guns in civilians' hands, but is not in a position (yet?) to officially say that firearms should be removed from the hands of civilians in nations where the rule of law is effective.
I don't know what you should think about this, but I'm continuing to prayerfully consider the role of firearms in my life in light of what those who care for my soul are saying. Their "opinion" should not be set aside lightly, but it is also not authoritative either.