Can I wear a weapon at Mass?

I am a lifelong Christian in the process of going through RCIA at the parish I have recently been attending. I am also a sworn deputy sheriff with one of the local sheriff’s departments. Today, I had to wear my uniform to Mass for the first time – with my weapon. I had little choice because of an obligation I had that was scheduled to start very shortly after Mass, and with RCIA immediately before Mass and something going on the previous night, noon Mass was just about my only option.

On my way out of Mass, the priest commented very disapprovingly (and somewhat publicly so) on the fact that I wore my weapon into the sanctuary. I explained to him that I cannot and would not wear, as I described it, the “big blue target” (my uniform) without the weapon – and wearing the uniform was unavoidable today. While I did not add this, I am loathe to walk into any church, Catholic or Protestant, without a weapon due to the multiple issues that have occurred across the country. I have, on many occasions, worn a weapon into the sanctuary in plain clothes. The weapon was always concealed, so this was apparently the first time the priest realized I was a police officer and carried weapons. I thought we had talked about it but perhaps we had not.

Is there any basis or precedent in the Church for the extreme disapproval I received from wearing the weapon into the sanctuary? As a law enforcement officer in this state, I am legally authorized to carry on church grounds, but I don’t want to “go against” the Church if it is considered a really bad thing. I do understand the priest has the authority over his parish, and if he wants to hold that firm line for his parish, I may have to find another parish. If it is a Church-wide doctrine, I may have to re-think my decision to join because I consider this a major deal for me.

So far as I know, the Church as an institution does not forbid law enforcement officers from wearing weapons on church property if doing so is required. But I think you will find that some of your fellow congregants are going to be unnerved by seeing a weapon in the sanctuary, and clergy probably would prefer you did not do so whenever possible. I suspect that most clergy will turn a blind eye to a uniformed officer wearing his service weapon, but that those same clergy would be upset if they knew a congregant was carrying a concealed weapon (even a legally concealed weapon). The reason you likely will encounter unease, at best, is because the sanctuary is a place of peace and a weapon is out of place in an area that is supposed to be consecrated to the worship of God.

That said, there may indeed be times that you find that you are only able to attend Mass if you can do so in uniform. If so, it makes sense that you cannot reasonably be expected to leave your weapon at home or out of your possession in public. I recommend making an appointment with the pastor of this parish to discuss the matter, and explain why you need to have your weapon with you if you are in uniform. If you offer to secure your weapon at home when attending in plain clothes, rather than carrying it concealed into the sanctuary, the pastor may be willing to set aside his reservations about you wearing a weapon while in uniform. If a reasonable compromise cannot be reached, I recommend contacting the diocese and asking to speak to the bishop or his delegate about the matter.

In any event, your decision to become Catholic should have nothing to do with whether or not you are allowed to carry your gun into a Catholic church. One should have absolutely nothing to do with the other. Your decision to become Catholic should be based on the desire to follow Jesus Christ in the Church he founded, not on whether ministers of the Church accommodate you in a manner you believe to be appropriate.

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