Is Self-Defense about “Guilt”?

For years, I have struggled against a popular but erroneous notion–even spread among many pro-life leaders–that there is a difference between “killing the guilty” and “killing the innocent.” Yes, the Church often refers to “innocent victims,” but the Church *never* says that the guilty “forfeit their right to life” This is a common notion, selectively used by pro-life leaders regarding terrorists and US enemies and serial killers–yet they get all defensive when you ask, “So, is it OK to kill abortionists? Do they forfeit their right to life by their guilt?” Suddenly, the next inconsistency is, “Well, the state doesn’t consider what they do murder.”

Well, the problem is the Church never says you have a right to kill anyone. The idea is to do everything possible to protect against an agreessor, up to and including taking that person’s life if there is no other course of action.

However, the Church never says “guilt”, and the example that occurs to me is that a person does not have to be “guilty” of anything for one to engage in self-defense.

Let’s say, for example, that I’m out in my yard, and my next door neighbor comes running and screaming at me, wielding a butcher knife. I have a reasonable assumption that he attacking me with the butcher knife, and I grab the nearest weapon or potential weapon and, in the attempt to defend myself, kill my next door neighbor. Now, I had no right and no need to try and judge my neighbor. I just had to know he was coming at me with a butcher knife. He might not have been *guilty* of anything: he might have been chopping meat in his kitchen and found out he had a gas leak, and his kitchen was about to explode. He was “innocent,” but from my perspective, I had a reasonable view that he as attacking me.

Similarly, let’s say Tom is driving along, and Harry, coming down the side of the road, has some kind of medical event. Harry is not driving recklessly or drunkenly; through no fault of his own, he loses control of his vehicle, and he swerves out of his lane. Tom uses a defensive maneuver, and Harry is killed. Tom hasn’t intentionally killed Harry, and Harry hasn’t intentionally tried to kill Tom. Harry is, like the neighbor in the first scenario, objectively innocent. However, he was endangering Tom’s life, and Tom was justified in saving his own life, even at the cost of Harry’s.

“Guilt” and “innocence” doesn’t have anything to do with it, yet Bl. John Paul II did say that, even when the death penalty is justified, it must be carried out objectively and not with a desire for revenge or anger.

I can objectively admit that the killing of Osama bin Ladin was justified. What I will not do is rejoice over it.

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2 responses to “Is Self-Defense about “Guilt”?

  1. I lit a candle of Saint Mary, the following day after in order not to rejoice at his killing but in rejoicing that God has shown his love to his real prophets by the death of a False Prophet. I also thought what a miserable life that false prophet must of had. Yes, I rejoice in that the Lord has shown justice.

  2. While lifelong imprisonment for grave and unrepentant evildoers is better than death, in Bin Laden’s case, I don’t think there was any other viable option. I am sad that all that we can know about Bin Laden points towards a soul lost to Hell, but I am glad that he is no longer able to carry out and incite evil acts in others. The world is better off without his influence.

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