Roman Catholic Killing Discussed
Question: Is killing to defend your country justified?
Roman Catholic Killing
Rev. GEOFFREY KERSLAKE is a priest of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Ottawa.
In the Beatitudes, Jesus gave us this powerful message: “Blessed are the peacemakers; they shall be called children of God.” (Matt 5:9) Jesus taught us a radical new way of treating our enemies. Instead of returning violence for violence Jesus instructs us to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” and “pray for those who persecute you” (Luke 6:27 & Matthew 5:44).
Tragically, there are times when oppressive regimes make war on their neighbours. Violence as a means of defending oneself or one’s nation is only a tragic last resort after all peaceful means of resolving conflict have failed.
The Catholic Church teaches “the prohibition of murder does not abrogate the right to render an unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm. Legitimate defence is a grave duty for whoever is responsible for the lives of others or the common good.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2321)
This is not blanket permission for the state to make war on enemies nor does it sanction all means of defence — especially the use of weapons of mass destruction or targeting civilians. The Church, and human reason, assert “the permanent validity of the moral law during armed conflicts. Practices deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles are crimes.” (CCC 2328)
During war, our normal moral duties do not disappear: “actions deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles are crimes, as are the orders that command such actions.
Blind obedience does not suffice to excuse those who carry them out.” (CCC 2313) Defending one’s country against aggression is permitted but we should never forget that every human life, from the moment of conception, is sacred because it is made in God’s image and likeness. Human life is God’s gift.
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