Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Fr. Joseph Terra of Mater Misericordiae Mission, Phoenix

Fr. Joseph Terra

“I have forgiven him.” - Fr. Terra

When I first read the unfortunate story of the murder of Fr. Kenneth Walter, FSSP, I immediately thought of the many posts Fr. Z has done on a priest's right to self-defense, gun ownership, shooting practice and training, as well as his support of conceal and carry, due to the increase of violent crime - especially on such soft targets as churches and rectories.

If only he had a gun.

That was my next thought.  It turns out that Fr. Joseph Terra did have a gun, which he kept by his bedside, when he went to retrieve it, he was too badly beaten to use it, the criminal grabbed the gun and then used it on Fr. Walker.

The attacker managed to take the gun from Terra, made the priest get on his hands and knees and give him money, and then used Terra's gun to shoot Father Walker, who had come to investigate the commotion, police said. - Story here.

It's a tragic situation.

Anti-gun advocates often claim that is what happens - the homeowners gun is often used against them.  Pro-gun advocates reject that notion and point to stats which claim the guns, though rarely fired, act as a deterrent to would be criminals and home invaders.

Then of course there are those who think a priest shouldn't be armed.

Fr. Walker was not armed of course.  Fr. Terra was, but apparently too disabled to use it.


Now for something about how the story gets reported.

Media seems to be struggling with how to cover the story when it comes to identifying the priests of the FSSP.  They describe them as if they are some sort of hybrid of Catholicism.  I wonder if this contributes to, or is in any way related to how ordinary Catholics regard the Extraordinary Form of Mass?  I'll post a couple of examples:

Terra and Walker's conservative order, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, was created in 1988 in response to Vatican II reforms in the 1960s that modernized the Church, with the fraternity's priests preferring to perform Mass in its “extraordinary form” -- that is, in Latin. Emphasis is placed on personal sacrifice in order to be closer to God.
During Monday's ceremony, priests spoke Latin, faced the altar rather than the congregation, and women wore mantillas, lace veils that were popular before Vatican II's reforms, when women were required to have their heads covered. - Story

I don't really expect secular media to get religious stuff right, but chances are this story was written by someone familiar with post-Vatican II Catholicism.

I think a huge problem is the ongoing 'separatist' movement regarding liturgy - ordinary form vs. extraordinary form, Latin vs vernacular and so on.  The FSSP and traditional Catholics are not another branch/sect of Catholicism - they are Catholics.  The FSSP was not created as a response or reaction to Vatican II.  The Extraordinary Form is not necessarily a 'preference'.  The priest doesn't face the altar, away from the people - he faces ad orientem, towards the East, towards God, if you will.  It is a priestly stance - leading the people in prayer and worship, offering the Holy Sacrifice.

It seems to me these peculiar misrepresentations contribute to the confusion, divisiveness and polarization among Catholics.   We do not have two branches of Catholicism.

O God, Who didst give to thy servant, Kenneth, by his sacerdotal office, a share in the priesthood of the Apostles, grant, we implore, that he may also be one of their company forever in Heaven. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Requiem Aeternam dona ei, Domine.

Et lux perpetua luceat ei.

Requiescat in pace.


  1. Well said, Terry. We attend an FSSP parish and don't consider ourselves "different" or "better." I've never heard an FSSP priest speak out against the ordinary form of the Mass and anyone in the congregation who does is quickly squashed. As an aside - about half of the women don't wear a head covering.

  2. Adrienne writes : "I've never heard an FSSP priest speak out against the ordinary form of the Mass and anyone in the congregation who does is quickly squashed. "

    While it's not exactly a common topic of conversation, I can hardly imagine anyone here being quickly squashed, or even looked askance at, I always thought is was somewhat common knowledge that the one is superior to the other. But then again the FSSP parish here has become rather lib over the years, so I might be wrong.

    My favorite homily for giving a wonderful insight was a Fr. Terra homily on the Resurrection and why the guarding of the Tomb by Roman Soldiers would have been seen as undeniable proof.

  3. "one is superior to the other" and "the parish has become rather lib over the years"

    That's the kind of language I'm talking about - so maybe the media is not to blame after all.

    My apologies.

  4. I do worry about the safety of priests. Disturbed people sometimes loiter around churches because they're tolerated more there. Our diocesan office, on the other hand, has become a fortress. The doors to the outside are kept locked. No one can enter without being buzzed in. They received a threat of some kind a couple of years ago.

  5. When I learned that the gun used in the murder was Father Terra's, I was stunned. I can't imagine the weight he is carrying right now. The blame for this tragedy lies with the intruder who made the decision to break in and steal. But it is difficult not to wonder what the outcome might have been if the attacker did not take Father's gun. And I don't think priests should arm themselves with anything other than spiritual weapons. This story is heartbreaking on so many levels and I am praying for both priests and their families and their mission parish.

    1. CCC 2264 Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one's own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow...

      The Church appears to teach, as I read it, that self defense is bound up with the fundamental right to life. While it may be laudible for a priest to arm himself only with spiritual weapons---and while we laity may romanticize the pacifist priest who willingly lays down his life rather than raise even a fist, or who stops all conflicts with wise words and quck flash of his crucifix---I really don't have a problem with priest who arms himself.

  6. @Maria, our Cathedral has security during open hours; during Mass, they focus on the parking lot but they're always around inside during the day. The Sanctuary has an alarm, which is on when it's not in use or being readied for use. The Cathedral has an alarm system which is in use when the building is closed, as does the Rectory, which is on lockdown at all times; you can get into the vestibule, which has a camera on it and the receptionist asks who you're there to see, then will let you in the waiting room and let the other person know you're there so they can come and open the inner door for you. The Abp's residence is across the street and was broken into a couple of years ago. Some of the stuff reported stolen was actually still there but I'm not sure if they ever recovered the things that were taken.

    While it would be nice to live in a utopia where priests were respected and their office was sufficient as a deterrent, we don't live in that world. If a priest thinks he needs to be armed with more than prayers and rosary beads, so be it. I make rosaries for priests specifically because I like my priests to be armed and dangerous.

  7. I do not share the neoconservative view that the right to life is tied to a responsibility to own a lethal weapon. I also remember the promises of Our Lady to anyone devoted to her through the Rosary. We will never be overcome by misfortune and we will not die an unprovided death.

    What's more, there are plenty of ways to protect one's self without owning a weapon that comes with a greater statistical chance of being used against the owner than an attacker. I would personally contribute to the care and upkeep of a guard dog for any priest that wants one.

    I really miss Father S of the late blog Clerical Reform.

  8. I think that even if the assailant in this case had not gotten Fr. Terra's gun away from him that he could well have ended up killing one or both priests regardless. If you read the background on the man, you know that one of his earlier stints in prison was because he broke into a man's house in the middle of the night, got a knife out of the kitchen in the house, and began stabbing the sleeping homeowner in the stomach. Would have killed him, too, but for the fact that a couple of the homeowner's friends (who must have been staying at the house) intervened. So, gun or no, I think given this guy's history the outcome wouldn't have been good unless Fr. Terra never went to investigate the sound and just sat waiting with his gun. As for the guard dog recommendation...I wish. Guard dogs only work for amateur crooks. Serious criminals just kill the dogs. I hate to say it, but it's true. I have a "guard dog" breed and my biggest fear is that someone would break into the house and hurt her when I'm not home. The primary value of the guard dog, IMO, is as an early warning system to alert the homeowner who can then retrieve his or her firearm. Also, of course, to deter the amateur crooks.


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