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Faith/Spirituality Forum: Killing for the sake of defense

by Catherine Frakas 29 Aug 2001

Killing for the sake of defense QUESTION from Gregory Thompson on July 12, 2002 What does the bible and the Church say about killing out of defense, such as war? Is it righteous to fight and kill someone to protect one's life or other lives? Jesus teaches peace and love, but if the U.S.A. didn't fight back the terrorist, wouldn't they come here and kill all of us? Is it in the bounds of being right in heaven if one kills to protect others?
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, OLSM on July 22, 2002 Dear Mr. Thompson:
Here is the Catechism on this subject:
--------------- Legitimate defense 2263 The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one's own life; and the killing of the aggressor.... The one is intended, the other is not.
2264 Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one's own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:
If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful.... Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one's own life than of another's.
2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for someone responsible for another's life. Preserving the common good requires rendering the unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm. To this end, those holding legitimate authority have the right to repel by armed force aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their charge. --------------
In other words one may defend themselves and may have a GRAVE DUTY to defend when another person is at threat. The killing of the perpetrator MUST NOT BE INTENDED on purpose, but if the death of the perpetrator is the only way to protect your life or the lives of your loved ones, then the perpetrator's death is not an act of sin on the part of the person defending themselves.
But you cannot use more force than is necessary. One cannot kill a perpetrator if a lessor means of protecting oneself is available. But we do have the right to defend our lives and the lives of others against those whom threaten us. The death of the perpetrator may happen because there is no choice.
On the issue of War, the Church teaches that war must be avoided, but that it is possible to have a just war:. The Catechism explains:
---------------- 2309 The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force (just war) require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:
- the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
- all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
- there must be serious prospects of success;
- the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition. These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the just war doctrine.
The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.
2310 Public authorities, in this case, have the right and duty to impose on citizens the obligations necessary for national defense.
Those who are sworn to serve their country in the armed forces are servants of the security and freedom of nations. If they carry out their duty honorably, they truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace.
2311 Public authorities should make equitable provision for those who for reasons of conscience refuse to bear arms; these are nonetheless obliged to serve the human community in some other way. -------------------
Paragraph 2309 states that the determination of whether the war is a just war belongs to those who have responsibility for the common good -- the government and the Church.
If a soldier is called to fight an unjust war, the determination of just war is out of his hands. He may serve his country and do his duty in war, including to kill, without moral guilt if he has conducted his duty with honor and propriety according to the rules of War (Geneva Convention) and the Codes of Justice and War of civilized nations.
Goverments must provide, however, a means for those whose consciences refuse to bear arms at all.
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