This Week in God

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Gabriel Possenti, the "patron saint of handgunners"?
Gabriel Possenti, the "patron saint of handgunners"?

First up from the God Machine this week is a rare story at the intersection of religion and gun culture.

According to legend, in 1859, dozens of soldiers reportedly tried to take over the Italian village of Isola. As the story goes, Gabriel Possenti, at the time a twentysomething student at a nearby Catholic seminary, took out a handgun, intimidated the invaders with his brilliant one-shot marksmanship, and the soldiers fled in fear.

And as Tim Murphy explained this week, some American firearm enthusiasts, including an activist named John Snyder, now want to build a movement around Possenti and his story (thanks to reader R.P. for the tip).

Snyder, 73, is the founder of the Saint Gabriel Possenti Society, an organization dedicated to getting Possenti, who was canonized in 1920, officially certified as the “patron saint of handgunners.” Wednesday is St. Gabriel Possenti Day – an annual event that this year coincides with the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on assault weapons.

As it turns out, there are a few problems with the effort. For one thing, having a “patron saint of handgunners” is kind of silly. For another, the legend is wrong.

Possenti … wasn’t much of a marksman at all. In fact, the entire incident never even happened. Officially, Possenti is St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother and, as designated by Pope Benedict XV, the patron saint of Catholic youth. According to the Rev. Arthur Carrillo, director of the Passionists’ Office of Mission Effectiveness, he was quite the dancer.

The effort has picked up some notable allies, including former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, but it’s unlikely to succeed. The Rev. Arthur Carrillo, who works for Possenti’s order, said, “We’re entirely opposed to it.” What’s more, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has championed gun-control measures for many years.

But Snyder, a former associate editor of the National Rifle Association’s American Rifleman magazine, intends to keep working on it, calling those who disagree with him “pacifistic pruneheads.”

Also from the God Machine this week:

* The New York Times reports today on several states – most notably, Texas, Arizona, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Tennessee – which have passed laws intended to “push the Bible into the heart of the instructional day” at public schools. Because the instruction is intended to be secular and educational in nature, state policymakers believe they’ve found a way around First Amendment concerns.

* Yet another sex scandal for the Roman Catholic Church: “Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the UK’s most senior Roman Catholic cleric, has resigned as the head of the Scottish Catholic church after being accused of ‘inappropriate acts’ towards fellow priests.”

* Disgraced Republican lobbyist Ralph Reed, now back in his role as a religious right leader, is heading the charge against public repair grants for the National Cathedral in D.C. Reed ordinarily wants more government support for religious institutions, but because the National Cathedral’s leadership supports marriage equality, the prominent far-right activist believes the church shouldn’t receive aid.

* Indiana’s Family Christian Center, one of the nation’s largest megachurches, is facing foreclosure, despite brining in $10 million a year in donations.

* And TV preacher Pat Robertson warned his viewers this week that demons may attach themselves to secondhand sweaters. So, be careful.

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This Week in God

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