Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller.
Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller participates in a March 23 vigil in Main Plaza in response to the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Following a series of scathing tweets on Monday, Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller released a statement Tuesday evening saying he regrets the messages he sent out on Twitter because they were “not focused on the issues but on an individual.”

“All individuals have God-given dignity and should be accorded respect and love as children of God, especially in our conversations and interactions,” García-Siller said. “We should be aware of this in our discourse about the Office of the President of the United States, which is due our respect.”

The clarification comes in the wake of Twitter messages posted Monday in which the archbishop pleaded with the president to “Please stop racism. Please stop hatred. Please be people of good will. Please stop fake prayer.”

In the now redacted Twitter messages, García-Siller called President Donald Trump “a very [weak] man” and urged him to “stop hate and racism, starting with yourself.”

The Twitter messages, widely viewed as some of the more damning statements made by a Catholic official regarding the recent incidents of gun violence in the U.S., were effectively erased from the online platform. García-Siller said in a statement on Tuesday that he regretted that “recent Tweet remarks were not focused on the issues but on an individual.”

García-Siller joined several local and national politicians who have been outspoken in their discomfort in the wake of the El Paso shooting, which left 22 dead, in addition to Trump’s response to the massacre is Dayton, Ohio, which happened just hours after the violence in El Paso and left nine people dead in less than a minute.

Democratic presidential candidate and El Paso native Beto O’Rourke said on Twitter that “this president’s open racism is an invitation to violence” and that the president should stay away from his hometown as it grieves. O’Rourke said Trump “helped create the hatred that made Saturday’s tragedy possible.”

An anti-immigrant manifesto warning of a “Hispanic invasion” has been linked to the suspect in the shooting rampage, but law enforcement officers have yet to confirm it. The document, posted online hours before the shooting, says Democrats are using “open borders” and “free healthcare for illegals” to attract new voters.

Some of the language in the manifesto reflects ideas voiced by Trump, but in a public response on Monday the president called on the nation to condemn racism and white supremacy. He did not address critics who accuse him of stoking hate speech. Trump frequently refers to immigrants as “invaders,” “thugs,” and “criminals.”

He instead blamed the internet and social media for the “racist hate” displayed by the suspect in the El Paso massacre, saying it provided “a dangerous avenue to radicalize disturbed minds.”

On Sunday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said video games, social media, and “the absence of prayer from the public square” and from schools were to blame for the shooting. Patrick added that there is a “need for the state and for society to do a better job of dealing with challenging mental health-based issues.”

The San Antonio archbishop’s Twitter account, which as of Tuesday evening had grown to about 2,500 followers, still has some less-scathing tweets, not directed at Trump, that condemn gun violence. One says, “The rhetoric and selfishness of many in power has led to destruction and pain.” Another asks for people to “rise with love, forgiveness and tenderness as we care [for] the wounds of those innocent people affected by hatred, racism and discrimination.” 

The Rev. Ann Helmke, the City’s community faith-based liaison, told the Rivard Report in a message Tuesday that García-Siller acted “in courage as a faith leader in these traumatic and politically charged times.”

“Such courage is honorable whether you agree with him or not. He is acting as a living example of the power of democracy as well as the Golden Rule found in all world religions,” Helmke said. 

“Despite many promising strides made in our country, the ugly cancer of racism still infects our nation. Racist acts are sinful because they violate justice,” García-Siller said in his Tuesday evening statement. “They reveal a failure to acknowledge the human dignity of the persons offended, to recognize them as the neighbors Christ calls us to love.”

In the wake of local and national media attention, García-Siller said in his statement that “we must pray for fervently for peace amidst all of the violence which seems to be overwhelming our society.”

“We must be lights in the darkness. Let us further the values of the Kingdom. We do not need more division, but rather, we need to move forward in freedom to discuss these topics more deeply in light of the Gospel,” García-Siller said.

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.