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Does the Catholic Church have any explicit laws regarding priests and the ownership of or the carrying of firearms?

I am under the impression that Canon Law (someplace) forbids for all clerics from anything "unbecoming to their state." But alas, if this is true, such is by no means explicit.

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  • I am not a canonist, so I don't know of any "explicit" laws forbidding priests from owning/carrying a handgun. But it appears they are not forbidden to do so. Fr. John Zuhldorf, a popular blogger priest of good standing and gun enthusiast, has this to say: "In short, yes. Priests and bishops can carry hand guns, according to the laws of the place where they live. Priests are not second class citizens. They are – right now at least – not prohibited by laws of the state or laws of the Church." Jun 20, 2023 at 10:39

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In canon law, under book II, part I, chapter III, you can find the obligations and rights of clerics. You can find a few canons that you can interpret in the light of this question:

Can. 282 §1. Clerics are to foster simplicity of life and are to refrain from all things that have a semblance of vanity.

Can. 284 Clerics are to wear suitable ecclesiastical garb according to the norms issued by the conference of bishops and according to legitimate local customs.

(if a firearm is seen as decoration, this might apply)

Can. 285 §1. Clerics are to refrain completely from all those things which are unbecoming to their state, according to the prescripts of particular law. §2. Clerics are to avoid those things which, although not unbecoming, are nevertheless foreign to the clerical state.

(this is, I think, very much a local, cultural matter. A cleric should ask his bishop for advice, if this is matter of discussion. In my culture it is really an absurd question. Nobody in my culture would think it anything but totally foreign to the clerical state to carry a firearm or any other arm. But I can imagine this would be totally different in another culture)

Can. 289 §1. Since military service is hardly in keeping with the clerical state, clerics and candidates for sacred orders are not to volunteer for military service except with the permission of their ordinary.

Even though “military service” and “carrying a firearm” are not synonymous this canon might be understood as a signal that the use of weapons is not exactly what is fitting for the clerical state. But again, this is to be understood within cultural context I think. The Catholic Church does not teach pacifism like some other Christian denominations.

All quotes can be found in the Code of Canon Law on the website of the Vatican.

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Does the Catholic Church Promulgate Anything Specific Regarding Priests and Firearms?

The Church has never promulgated laws forbidding priests from owning firearms. Although extremely rare, I do personally know of a few priests that own firearms and actually go hunting.

If you ever get the chance to read about the life of any early missionary in the great north (arctic) prior to the 1940s, you would understand how necessary owning a rifle is in such a hostile surrounding. Polar bears have no natural fear of man. Missionaries, like the Eskimos and Inuit, survive on eating wild game of one sort or another : usually seal meat. Nothing grows in the north! Early missionaries of the Eskimos and Inuit had an indult to eat meat and animal products all year round. And this was at a time when the rules for Lent were much more severe than nowadays.

From early times, hunting, in one form or another has been forbidden to clerics. Thus, in the "Corpus Juris Canonici" (C. ii, X, De cleric. venat.) we read: "We forbid to all servants of God hunting and expeditions through the woods with hounds; and we also forbid them to keep hawks or falcons." The Fourth Council of the Lateran, held under Pope Innocent III, decrees (can. xv): "We interdict hunting or hawking to all clerics." The decree of the Council of Trent is worded more mildly: "Let clerics abstain from illicit hunting and hawking" (Sess. XXIV, De reform., c. xii). The council seems to imply that not all hunting is illicit, and canonists generally make a distinction between noisy (clamorosa) and quiet (quieta) hunting, declaring the former to be unlawful but not the latter.

Ferraris (s.v. "Clericus", art. 6) gives it as the general sense of canonists that hunting is allowed to clerics if it be indulged in rarely and for sufficient cause, as necessity, utility, or honest recreation, and with that moderation which is becoming to the ecclesiastical state. Ziegler, however (De episc., l. IV, c. xix), thinks that the interpretation of the canonists is not in accordance with the letter or spirit of the laws of the Church. - Canons on hunting

In the past, priests were simply forbidden to hunt with dogs, falcons, hawks and in large groups in order to keep it more in the line of providing food for oneself and not so much as a popular sport!

Dr. Taylor Marshall has the following to say about priests hunting.

There has never been a prohibition against hunting for laymen. However, there is quite a controversial history concerning clerical hunting. The Council of Trent, for example, made the formal distinction between clamorous (clamorosa) hunting and quiet (quieta) hunting. (Session XXIV, 12). “Clamorous hunting” is forbidden to priests. However, “quiet hunting” is allowed.

Clamorous hunting likely refers to the large hunting parties that are sometimes associated with dogs, drinking, and lasciviousness. It is clear that this type of gathering would not be proper for a priest. “Quiet hunting” would be more like laying traps in the woods or going out alone with a deer rifle.

In the “Corpus Juris Canonici” (C. ii, X, De cleric. venat.) we read: “We forbid to all servants of God hunting and expeditions through the woods with hounds; and we also forbid them to keep hawks or falcons.” The Fourth Council of the Lateran, held under Pope Innocent III, decrees (can. xv): “We interdict hunting or hawking to all clerics.” It seems here that there is a worry that hunting and hawking takes too much time for recreation. We imagine modern canons to read “golfing.”

I don’t know where canon law stands today, but I thought you might find the history of the questoin to be rather interesting.

Can Priests Go Hunting? The Council of Trent provides an answer…

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  • +1 Thank you for your informative answer. When I posted the question, I had in mind a priest who kept a gun to use against intruders. He used it at least once. I thought, perhaps, some Church law may exist, or might have existed, to the contrary.
    – DDS
    Oct 25, 2023 at 12:39
  • @DDS. It depends very much upon the reason for owing the firearm, and also upon the local laws of the land. For instance, "I had in mind a priest who kept a gun to use against intruders." wouldn't be acceptable in Canada, where self-defence is not a valid reason for firearms possession. Oct 25, 2023 at 18:39

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