“Ask a Priest: Can a Soldier Kill and Still Make It to Heaven?”

Q: It came up in a debate earlier whether or not soldiers go to heaven. The main point of contention was that soldiers (for the most part) kill, and the Commandments state, “Thou shall not kill.” If a soldier (or police officer, for that matter) who has killed in the line of duty dies before they have the opportunity to confess the sin of killing and to perform penance, where would their soul go after death? – K.G.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The commandment “Thou shall not kill” involves primarily the killing of innocent people. The Church has long accepted that killing can be permitted in the case of self-defense or the protection of innocent lives, which would include police and soldiers using deadly force.

A few numbers are worth quoting from the Catechism:

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.”

2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.

Later, No. 2310 says:

“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.”

So, people who have the responsibility to protect the common good can rightly use deadly force if that is the only way to stop unjust aggressors.

Thus, police and soldiers who killed in the line of duty and who otherwise are in a state of grace can certainly attain to heaven.

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