Gun incident at Cathedral most troubling

Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese Bishop Mark L. Bartchak was correct in observing that “many people understandably have questions about what would prompt an individual to carry a gun into the Cathedral (of the Blessed Sacrament).”

But the same people might be harboring in their minds another important question: Is the man at the center of the incident on April 4 beset by such fear of someone that he felt he could not even part with his weapon to attend a solemn Easter service?

It was bad enough that the man in question – Matthew A. Crawford, 29, of Altoona – made the misguided decision about a week ago to have two guns in his possession on the campus of Mount Aloysius College in Cresson, where he had been a student.

The college quickly expelled him in the aftermath of that incident.

For him to follow that unconscionable move by carrying a gun with him to a religious service during a time considered the most solemn of the church year was not only unfathomable, but the epitome of irresponsibility and disregard.

Some people no doubt firmly believe that it was only by the grace of God that no one was wounded or killed when Crawford’s gun discharged, apparently accidentally.

There are no doubt places in the Cathedral with hard surfaces that would have caused the bullet to ricochet, putting parishioners in grave danger.

Fortunately, that night the bullet from what city police described as a semi-automatic handgun passed through floor tile and penetrated slightly the concrete underneath, creating a shallow crater.

The gun had been in Crawford’s pocket.

Crawford reportedly was only slightly injured.

It’s sad to think that in America – in the Altoona-based diocese, no less – the new order of immediate business apparently will have to be implementation of rules prohibiting bringing guns – and presumably knives or any other weapons – into churches.

Has this diocese really reached a point in time when its churches will have to post security personnel and devices at the doors to screen people going inside to pray?

As for Crawford, the incidents at Mount Aloysius and the Cathedral weren’t his only brushes with authority and the law. He was arrested in 2010 after an argument with a relative at his late father’s home on Baker Boulevard in Altoona. He pulled a gun on the relative after he was refused use of an SUV.

However, Saturday’s incident and its potential to harm more than a few people – emotionally as well as physically – was more serious than the others.

Bartchak’s calming response in the immediate aftermath of the Easter Vigil incident was commendable, but it’s troubling that city police for days embraced a tight-lipped stance on revealing and confirming Crawford’s identity.

There was nothing to be gained in protecting that identity.

Indeed, people of all religious faiths here have questions stemming from Saturday’s incident, and for some, going to church will not involve the same sense of security that they’ve felt in the past.


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