In Light of the Zimmerman Acquittal – Self-Defense?

by Steve Ray on July 14, 2013

There will be many opinions and the discussion and wrangling will go on for quite a while, I suppose. Unhappily, this promises to further divide our country, especially along racial lines.

However, I am not getting into that discussion here. Rather, it is important to understand the teaching of the Church on the matter of self-defense. Yes, many will say “With Zimmerman it was not self-defense; Tryvon Martin was profiled and murdered in cold blood.”

But that is now what the jury found. Our justice system is certainly not perfect, but it is the best in the world. But the point of this post is not to discuss Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence.

The jury found Zimmerman to be not guilty of murder or manslaughter. The opinion of the great majority of experts and commentators is that the prosecution failed to make a case. The jury concluded there was no intent to murder and that manslaughter was not applicable. Thus, it is viewed by jury and most experts and commentators as legitimate self-defense.

So, whether you agree with the outcome of the Zimmerman trial or not, what does the Church teach about self-defense and preservation of one’s self even to the use of lethal force?

Catechism of the Catholic Church

CCC 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:

[Quoting St. Thomas Aquinas] 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.

Code of Canon Law

can. 1323† The following are not subject to a penalty when they have violated a law or precept:

1° a person who has not yet completed the sixteenth year of age;

2° a person who without negligence was ignorant that he or she violated a law or precept; inadvertence and error are equivalent to ignorance;

3° a person who acted due to physical force or a chance occurrence which the person could not foresee or, if foreseen, avoid;

4° a person who acted coerced by grave fear, even if only relatively grave, or due to necessity or grave inconvenience unless the act is intrinsically evil or tends to the harm of souls;

5° a person who acted with due moderation against an unjust aggressor for the sake of legitimate self-defense or defense of another;

6° a person who lacked the use of reason, without prejudice to the prescripts of cann. 1324, §1, n. 2 and 1325;

7° a person who without negligence thought that one of the circumstances mentioned in nn. 4 or 5 was present.

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