When a new pope gets elected later this month, one of the many decisions he will face is whether to grant official recognition to anoint a Patron Saint of Handgunners.
The candidate is Saint Gabriel Possenti, a 19th century Italian monk who allegedly saved a village from bandits with a handgun before dying of tuberculosis at 23.
The St. Gabriel Possenti Society established itself over 20 years ago with the sole purpose of getting Possenti recognized as handgun enthusiasts’ official saint, agitating and campaigning on his behalf. The 501(c)3 charity group, whose seal includes a drawing of Possenti and a revolver, encourages members to lobby local clergymen, write letters to Vatican officials, and “obtain numerous Gun Saint tokens and deposit them in church collection baskets of your denomination.”
According to the group, Saint Gabriel Possenti saved the villagers of Isola del Gran Sasso from a marauding gang of 20 renegade soldiers by demonstrating his marksmanship with a revolver in 1860. When the gangsters (whom the group notes were also “would-be rapists”) descended on the town, Possenti fired at a lizard in the road and killed it with a single shot.
The bandits, terrified by his excellent shot, fled the town and the day was saved. “St. Gabriel Possenti performed this feat of courage without causing physical harm to a single human being,” they note.
The legend, however, may be little more than that, as some allege the gun incident never occurred. One website dedicated to the saint notes that the tale only appears in one of the four biographies on Possenti, and that the author of the relevant one, Rev. Godfrey Poage, acknowledged that “some of the accounts in his book were invented to ‘enliven’ the story.” Furthermore, Possenti died only two years later and thus would likely have been in late stages of tuberculosis, the critics note, and thus in no shape to fight off 20 armed gangsters.
In a statement sent today marking the upcoming feast day of the saint, Society Chairman John Snyder acknowledged the historical dispute and defended the “lizard incident.”
“The Poage account of the lizard incident remained non-controversial for over a quarter of a century. It wasn’t until I began promoting St. Gabriel Possenti as a Patron of Handgunners in the late 1980s that anti-gun bigots began a belated attempt to attack the account of the lizard incident. It seems they are more concerned with being politically correct than historically accurate,” Snyder said.
Snyder wrote a whole book about the incident, “Gun Saint,” which features an illustration of the young Saint Gabriel Possenti firing a gun as bearded gangsters flee in all directions.
The group even claims biblical passages support the use of guns for self-defense. You can read about them in a printed monograph, which the Society will send to you for a reasonable contribution of $10.
By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, February 21, 2013
Since 1870, when the Roman Catholic Church formally pronounced popes infallible, a lot of Vatican energy has gone into claiming that doctrine never changes—that the church has been maintaining the same positions since the time of Jesus. Of course, historians know better: Dozens of church conferences, synods, and councils have regularly revised the teachings, all the while claiming utter consistency. Thus, when the advent of the birth control pill in the early ’60s coincided with a major push for church modernization, there was widespread hope among Catholics that the reform-minded Pope John XXIII would lift the church’s ban on contraception. After all, the Second Vatican Council had explicitly called for greater integration of scientific knowledge into church teaching.
John did establish a small commission for the Study of Problems of Population, Family, and Birth, which his successor, Paul VI, expanded to 58 members. Its job was to study whether the pill and issues such as population growth should lead to a change in the church’s prohibition on all forms of contraception (other than abstinence during periods of fertility—the “rhythm method”). The commission was led by bishops and cardinals, including a Polish bishop named Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II. (The Polish government did not allow Wojtyla to attend meetings.) They were assisted by scientists, theologians—including Protestants, whose church had ended its own opposition to contraception three decades earlier—and even several lay couples. One of them, Patty and Patrick Crowley from Chicago, carried letters and stories from Catholic women worn out by multiple pregnancies, medical problems, and the financial burdens of raising large families. The commission deliberated for two years, amid much anticipation from the faithful.
The Vatican’s position on birth control has long held something of a paradox: Catholics are encouraged to plan their families, to bear only the number of children they can afford, and to consider the impact of family size on a community and the planet. In recent years, under Pope Benedict XVI, the church has also made a major push to embrace environmental stewardship. Yet Catholicism has also been the most intransigent of the world’s religions on the subject of contraception, alone in denying its use even to married couples.
This may have made some theological sense in the first century of Christianity, when Jesus’ followers believed he would return in their lifetime: Their mission was to prepare for the Second Coming by devoting themselves to the worship of God. Sex, they believed, was a distraction. The good life was best lived in celibacy—even in marriage. When the wait for the Second Coming evaporated, the belief that sex for its own sake was sinful did not, and abstinence remained the ideal.
Joshua Green of The Atlantic is reporting that Rep. Michelle Bachmann has long belonged to a church that, well, has some odd views about the Catholic Church:
Michele Bachmann is practically synonymous with political controversy, and if the 2008 presidential election is any guide, the conservative Lutheran church she belonged to for many years is likely to add another chapter due to the nature of its beliefs–such as its assertion, explained and footnoted on this website, that the Roman Catholic Pope is the Antichrist.
The short, obvious response to the idea that this might hurt Bachmann’s presidential aspirations is, in a few words, “Reverend Jeremiah Wright.”
After all, President Barack Obama’s ties to Reverend Wright and his church didn’t hurt his presidential campaign nearly as much as expected — as he went on to win. Even in 2008, the idea that Obama was a covert black radical hiding behind a moderate liberal façade seemed far fetched. There was little connection between Wright’s views and Obama’s actual policy agenda.
This could, however, create problems for Bachmann. After all, unlike Obama, Bachmann has placed her religious views front and center in the campaign, most recently by signing onto a “pledge” issued by a group of social conservatives in Iowa affirming a number of paternalistic policy positions. In signing the pledge, Bachmann was promising to fight marriage equality, pornography, the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and even the presence of women in the Armed Forces. Bachmann’s religious views, unlike Obama’s, are easily connectable to a definable policy agenda. So her religious views will be far more relevant than Obama’s — and many of the policy positions she’s adopted as a result aren’t likely to be popular outside of the GOP base.
George W. Bush frequently credited Karl Rove’s outreach to Catholics as key to his ascension to the White House. Has Bachmann — who left her former church last year and disavowed its views on Catholicism — damaged herself with this key segment of the electorate? That’s anybody’s guess. But generally speaking, some of her religiously informed political views will be a major liability among the broader electorate, should she win the nomination, and may even discourage Republicans who want to win the White House from voting for her. The more stories like this one expose the extent to which some of Bachmann’s religious views smack of bigotry, the worse her chances will get.
By: Adam Serwer, The Washington Post, July 14, 2011