Priest killed, another injured at downtown Phoenix church


An attack at a downtown Phoenix church left one priest dead and another critically wounded.

Fr. Kenneth Walker, 29, died of a gunshot wound in the attack Wednesday, while Fr. Joseph Terra, 56, survived the attack and was hospitalized in critical but stable condition, Sgt. Steve Martos of the Phoenix Police Department said.

Both priests are members of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter. The order of priests is dedicated to celebrating the Mass in the extraordinary form, commonly known as the Tridentine rite.

The attack stunned the church in Phoenix, where the diocese issued a statement asking for prayers for both men, the religious community, their families and the parish.

Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, who was attending the annual spring meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in New Orleans, offered a prayer as the bishops began the day's agenda Thursday.

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The bishop said Walker was ordained a year ago.

Martos said police received a 911 call at about 9 p.m. from Mater Misericordiae (Mother of Mercy) Mission reporting a burglary. Responding officers found the two priests severely wounded and immediately called for an ambulance.

Walker was pronounced dead at the hospital, Martos said. He described Terra's injuries as severe and said it appeared intruders beat him.

"The call came in as a burglary, but we're not sure burglary was, in fact, the motive," Martos told Catholic News Service.

The priests were found in the parish rectory, which is connected to the church. Television images showed that the rectory's windows were protected by iron bars.

A 2003 Mazda Tribute was reported missing from church property and was discovered about two hours after the incident several blocks from the parish, the police spokesman added. Investigators planned to comb the vehicle for evidence later Thursday.

"Without having a little more conversation with Father Terra, we don't have a suspect description," Martos said.

Outside the church early Thursday, 25 parishioners arrived silently with their heads bowed, kneeled on a sidewalk behind the police crime scene tape and prayed the rosary.

Parishioner Bill Haley of Phoenix said he visited Terra in the hospital shortly after midnight and that the priest asked for prayers for his recovery. He said he also asked about the well-being of parishioners.

"The priests always helped anyone in need. They have a heart to serve the poor and they never would have turned anyone away," Haley said.

Parishioner Joseph Bright of Mesa said parishioners were praying for the repose of Walker's soul and for healing for Terra.

They are "very good and holy priests" and "very kind to the people here" at the parish and in the neighborhood, he said.

Founded in Switzerland in 1988, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter is based in Germany's Bavaria region and has about 240 priests serving in 15 countries.

[Dennis Sadowski in Washington, Nancy Wiechec in Phoenix, and Carol Zimmermann in New Orleans contributed to this story.]

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July 14-27, 2017