By Joyce Coronel
PHOENIX (CNS) — Clergy, religious and laity jammed into St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Phoenix for a standing-room-only funeral Mass for Father Kenneth Walker June 16.
The 28-year-old priest was fatally injured June 11 in an attack at a different church, one that stands in the shadows of the state Capitol buildings. A second priest, Father Joseph Terra, 56, was critically injured.
Father Walker died at the hospital, and Father Terra was hospitalized in critical but stable condition. He has since been released from intensive care.
Phoenix police announced hours before the funeral Mass that they had a suspect in custody for the slaying and assault.
Gary Michael Moran, 54, a transient who was released from prison in April, was arrested June 15 at 9 p.m. at a psychiatric treatment center some four miles northwest of Mater Misericordiae (Mother of Mercy) Mission, where the two priests served.
Phoenix Police Chief Daniel Garcia said the attack on the two priests was a “horrific crime” and that the department felt an urgency to find the perpetrator.
Father Walker, a priest since 2012, was parochial vicar at Mater Misericordiae. Father Terra, a priest since 1989, was the pastor. Both were ordained for the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter.
Garcia, along with Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and other city officials, attended the funeral Mass prior to a noon news conference at police headquarters. Garcia noted that the Catholic community had “come together as a family to support each other” in the aftermath of the attack.
“I’m very pleased we were able to make this arrest,” Garcia said. “We wanted to bring closure as quickly as possible in this case.”
Moran has a long history of criminal activity, police say, including arrests for assault, burglary, prohibited possession of a weapon, theft of a vehicle and illegal drugs. He was released from jail in April after serving more than 85 percent of his sentence for burglary and aggravated assault.
The judge set Moran’s bail at $1 million in cash only.
At the time of his arrest, Moran was in a wheelchair, but police do not believe he is wheelchair-bound. According to police, Father Terra and Father Walker did not know Moran.
Garcia said there was no warrant out for Moran’s arrest, but that members of the community came forward via the Silent Witness program and offered information that led to the arrest.
Moran made admissions about the attack on the priests during his interrogation by detectives but ultimately invoked his right to an attorney.
“We believe this was a crime of opportunity,” Garcia said.
Father Terra, police said, heard a noise outside the rectory and opened the door to investigate, only to be attacked. Father Walker heard the melee and came from his room. That’s when the suspect allegedly shot him.
Police say that Father Terra was beaten with an angled iron during the assault and that the gun used in the murder belonged to Father Terra. Moran was able to overpower Father Terra and take the weapon from him.
At the funeral Mass, Father Eric Flood, the North American superior of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, spoke about Father Walker’s love of celebrating Mass.
“If someone were to ask him if he would still want to be priest if he knew he would someday be killed, he would probably say yes,” Father Flood said, “even to say Mass just once.”
He also offered what he said would be Father Walker’s advice to the killer.
“His advice would probably be that he should grow in his friendship with God. Father Walker would say that there was a thief crucified alongside Christ, and our Lord turned to him and said, ‘This day you will be with me in paradise,'” Father Flood said.
Father Terra, despite his severe injuries, was able to attend the Mass where he sat in a wheelchair near the altar. His arms were bandaged and he kept his head lowered throughout the service that was celebrated in Latin. Mass at Mater Misericordiae is celebrated in the extraordinary form, commonly known as the Tridentine rite.
Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted offered his condolences to the community over the loss of Father Walker.
“His two years of being a priest were a blessing to all of us,” Bishop Olmsted said.
He also spoke to the many priests in the congregation.
“We feel a great fraternal love and great closeness to one another as we work together to serve Christ and his church,” Bishop Olmsted said. “We’ve lost a beloved brother.”
Despite the tragic loss, Bishop Olmsted offered words of hope. Jesus, by his resurrection, overcame death, the bishop said. Christ is not only the perfect high priest, he also is the innocent victim, just as Father Walker was an innocent victim of a violent crime.
“He fell asleep in Christ and awaked into the loving arms of his Savior, and with that hope we go forward honoring him and seeking ourselves to be faithful followers of Christ,” Bishop Olmsted said.
At the news conference held at police headquarters, Phoenix City Councilman Michael Nowakowski said he believed Father Walker would want the community to come up with a plan to help those recently released from prison to reintegrate into society. Moran was splitting the time since his arrest between living on the streets and in shelters.
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Coronel is interim managing editor at The Catholic Sun, newspaper of the Phoenix Diocese.
Phoenix police arrest suspect in violent attack on two Catholic priests
By Joyce Coronel
PHOENIX (CNS) — Police in Phoenix have arrested a suspect in the violent assault on a downtown church that took the life of one priest and left a second priest critically injured.
According to an AP story, a man identified as Gary Michael Moran, 54, was being held on suspicion of first-degree murder, burglary and armed robbery, among others charges, police said June 16.
The attack the night of June 11 left Father Kenneth Walker, 28, dead and Father Joseph Terra, 56, critically injured. Father Walker died of a gunshot wound at the hospital. AP said Father Terra was taken out of intensive care June 14 and is expected to make a full recovery.
Police planned to hold a news conference the afternoon of June 16 to release more details on the suspect. Earlier that morning, a funeral Mass was celebrated for Father Walker at St. Catherine of Siena Church in downtown Phoenix.
The attack stunned and saddened the Phoenix Diocese, parishioners and the community at large.
“We ask that people offer prayers for both priests, the religious community, their families and the parish,” the diocese said in a statement June 12.
The priests, members of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, served at Mater Misericordiae (Mother of Mercy) Mission, where they were attacked during a nighttime burglary.
Father Walker was pronounced dead at the hospital. A police spokesman described Father Terra’s injuries as severe and said that it appeared he was beaten by intruders.
At a news conference at the Phoenix Police Department the morning of June 12, Police Chief Daniel Garcia asked the community for assistance in solving the crime. He remained tight-lipped about the attack and would not comment as to whether the murder took place in the church itself or the rectory.
Father Terra made the 911 call, Phoenix police say, shortly after 9:30 p.m. June 11.
“We have an extensive investigation underway as of last night,” Garcia said. “The Phoenix Police Department will exhaust its resources to bring to justice the individuals who have committed this crime.”
“Our city lost a young priest,” said Mayor Greg Stanton. “Although we don’t know who did this, be assured that our very capable police department is working around the clock.”
Father Fred Adamson, the diocese’s vicar general and moderator of the curia, also spoke at the news conference. Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted was in New Orleans for the U.S. bishops’ spring general assembly June 11-13.
The vicar general said Father Terra administered last rites to Father Walker in spite of his own suffering.
“They (the two priests) have been there four year years and felt it was a safe place to live,” Father Adamson said when asked whether there were security problems with the church being close to the state Capitol grounds.
Father Terra is “a pretty strong man — he’s not afraid of anybody — and if anyone came in there and asked him, he would give them the shirt off his back. That’s the type of priest he is — a real servant of God,” Father Adamson said.
Both priests were known for their stalwart efforts on behalf of the unborn. Bishop Olmsted, in comments he made in New Orleans, said the two priests often participated in prayer vigils at abortion clinics.
“Every time that I went to pray during the ’40 Days for Life’ at the abortion places, (Father Walker) was there with Father Terra,” he said, calling them “faithful priests, joyfully serving their people.”
Father Walker, a priest since 2012, was parochial vicar at Mater Misericordiae. Father Terra, a priest since 1989, was the pastor. Both were ordained for the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter. The order is dedicated to celebrating the Mass in the extraordinary form, commonly known as the Tridentine rite.
“They loved their people. It couldn’t be something they provoked,” Bishop Olmsted said of the attack. “There has to be some other reason this violence happened.”
Despite the tragedy, the bishop offered words of hope. “We need to keep in mind that we’re people of hope, because death is not the last word, ever.”
Bart Tesoriero, a Mater Misericordiae parishioner, is a longtime technician with Radio Family Rosary and recently recorded a number of radio programs with Father Walker.
“I am really saddened,” Tesoriero told The Catholic Sun, Phoenix’s diocesan newspaper. “Father Walker was a very pure young man who was devoted to his priesthood. He was a beautiful person.”
Catholics were quick to react to the news of the attack on social media. “Horrible!” one woman posted on Facebook. “Our place of peace so horribly violated. Lord be with us all.”
Crosier Father Robert Rossi, presided at a noon Mass at the diocesan pastoral center June 12. A group of staff members had gathered before the Mass for a rosary on behalf of the two victims.
“We’re gathering at this table with great sadness,” Father Rossi said. “It’s a tragedy for our church and for our friends.”
He told diocesan staff the Gospel selection for the day’s Mass — Chapter 5, Verses 20-26 of St. Matthew’s Gospel — was particularly poignant in light of the attack because it mentioned murder and pointed to the importance of about being reconciled.
“Jesus called us to ask where does anger take root,” Father Rossi said. “The person who pulled the trigger must have been a very angry person and that anger built up. It’s a wake-up call for all of us.”
Members of Mater Misericordiae, many of the women wearing chapel veils, crowded into the Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral for a prayer vigil June 12.
Clarissa Quiring, who moved to the Phoenix area in December and joined Mater Misericordiae, attended the prayer vigil.
“They are men of profound prayer, with a deep respect for the Eucharist,” Quiring said of the two priests. “They understand that the Eucharist is central to the spiritual life and to our life in general.”
In his homily, Father John Lankeit, cathedral rector, described the two priests as “courageous.”
He, too, referred to how Father Terra, though badly beaten in the attack, administered last rites to Father Walker.
“In that moment facing darkness, he brought a soul into the hands of Jesus. He needs our prayers,” Father Lankeit said. “He has our admiration.”
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Coronel is interim managing editor at The Catholic Sun, newspaper of the Phoenix Diocese. Contributing to this story were Lindsay Wantland in Phoenix and Peter Finney in New Orleans.
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