NEW YORK — After hours of chaos in the nation’s capital Wednesday where President Donald Trump supporters descended upon and infiltrated the Capitol building in protest of the 2020 election, Catholic leaders across the country condemned the violence and called for peace.
“I join people of goodwill in condemning the violence today at the United States Capitol. This is not who we are as Americans. I’m praying for members of Congress and Capitol staff and for the police and all those working to restore order and public safety,” Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement.
He continued, “The peaceful transition of power is one of the hallmarks of this great nation. In this troubling moment, we must recommit ourselves to the values and principles of our democracy and come together as one nation under God.”
By 8 p.m. the crowd had largely dissipated and the Capitol building was secured by law enforcement. At that time, Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington issued a statement that “we should feel violated when the legacy of freedom enshrined in that building is disrespected and desecrated.”
“Together, we must intentionally pause and pray for peace at this critical moment,” Gregory said. “The divisive tone that has recently so dominated our national conversations must change. Those who resort to inflammatory rhetoric must accept some responsibility for inciting the increasing violence in our nation.”
The protestors started to gather in front of and on the main steps of the Capitol building early Wednesday afternoon as lawmakers met in joint session to count and confirm the electoral college votes from the 2020 election. Once protestors infiltrated the building Vice President Mike Pence and lawmakers were evacuated and the session was suspended and forced to recess. They reconvened to finish certifying the election results shortly after 8 p.m.
As of Wednesday night, there is one reported death of a woman who was shot earlier in the day. Pictures show a sea of thousands in front of the Capitol building waving “Trump 2020” and yellow “Don’t tread On Me Flags.” Others show clashes between protestors and law enforcement, officers with guns drawn guarding the House front door, and one insurgent sitting with his feet up on the vandalized desk of Nancy Pelosi.
Law enforcement officers also investigated reports of pipe bombs in multiple locations throughout Washington, D.C. One explosive device was located and safely detonated at Republican National Committee headquarters, and a suspicious package was found at the Democratic National Committee headquarters nearby, prompting an evacuation.
Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago said in a statement that what happened “should shock the conscience of any patriotic American and any faithful Catholic.”
“The eyes of the world look in horror as we suffer this national disgrace,” the statement reads. “For many months we have witnessed the erosion of the norms of our system of government. Peaceful protest is a sacred right. It has been an essential component of much social progress over the course of human history. But violence is the opposite. Violence in the service of falsehood is worse.”
Bishops from the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the United States, led by Archbishop Borys Gudziak of Philadelphia, released a statement noting that “Americans bear a great responsibility for the future of democracy in the world.”
“American leaders, first of all the President of the United States, must do everything in their power to reestablish peace and the rule of law. There is much injustice in our land. There is much anger. No injustice will be remedied by violence,” the statement continued.
Bishops also took to social media during and after Wednesday’s events. Many retweeted a tweet from the USCCB that simply read, “Lord God of peace, hear our prayer.”
Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonia put out a series of tweets, the last of which simply read “this is a sad day in our history.”
Just after 4 p.m., President-elect Joe Biden held a televised press conference where he called on Trump to “step up” and condemn what he called a “siege.”
“The words of a president matter. No matter how good or bad that president is,” Biden said from Wilmington, Delaware. “I call on President Trump to go on national television now to fulfill his oath and defend the constitution and demand an end to this siege.”
At around 4:20 p.m. Trump sent a message calling on protestors to “go home,” while reiterating his allegations that Democrats stole the election from him.
“I know you’re in pain. I know you’re hurt. We had an election stolen from us,” Trump said in a televised address to the protestors. “But you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order. We have to respect our people of law and order.”
In a conversation with Crux, Dennis Poust, interim executive director of the New York State Catholic Conference, said he wasn’t satisfied with what the nation heard from the president. He said what Americans need from Trump is “an unequivocal condemnation of violence in his name or for any other reason.”
“It’s hard to believe that the scenes in television were from the capital in Washington. It’s something you would expect to see in a third world country,” he continued. “The peaceful transfer of power is a sacred aspect of our democracy.”
In a statement, Pax Christi USA put the onus on Trump as the events unfolded.
“The events unfolding today at the U.S. Capitol are the result of the demagoguery of one man, President Trump, and the failure of all those – politicians, media, family, and more – who excused, overlooked, dismissed or otherwise encouraged that hateful and divisive rhetoric that have defined this president’s term in office,” the statement reads.
Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK also blamed the president and his rhetoric about the election for what happened in a series of tweets Wednesday night.
“This evil movement revolves around Donald Trump’s baseless claims and holds his racist, discriminatory unjust policies as its only deity,” Campbell said. “Today and for years to come, every American must answer this hateful, white supremacist effort to subvert a fair election with total rejection.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for peace in an address to Congress when they reconvened, noting that Wednesday was the Epiphany.
“I’m a big believer in prayer. Let us pray that there will be peace on earth, and that it will begin with us,” she said.
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg