Catholic commentary on the death of Bin Laden

In this post, I review some of the comments that Catholics are expressing about the death of Usama Bin Laden, and I add my own.

1. Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., head of the Press Office of the Holy See, says: “Osama bin Laden — as we all know — was gravely responsible for promoting division and hatred between peoples, causing the end of countless innocent lives, and of exploiting religions to this end…. Faced with the death of a man, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibility of each and every one of us before God and before man, and hopes and commits himself so that no event is an opportunity for further growth of hatred, but for peace.”

In general, it is true that we should not rejoice at the death of other human persons. However, I am rejoicing in the death of this wicked terrorist, who murdered the innocent and taught many others to murder the innocent. Is it moral for me to rejoice? I believe so. For I am considering enjoying the justice of God and the fruits of His Providence. This consideration and enjoyment is not inherently contrary to love of God and neighbor, since the love of God is inherently just. Neither can it be said that rejoicing in justice is contrary to mercy, since the mercy of God is inherently just. An unjust love is not true love, and an unjust mercy is not true mercy.

But I say more. It is one of the joys of the Blessed in Heaven to consider and know the just punishments of the damned in Hell. The Elect in Heaven never sin, and they always do the whole will of God. They are not ignorant of the existence of Hell, nor of the particular sufferings of the damned in that place of torments. For the Beatific Vision gives them immense knowledge. And yet they have no sorrow in the knowledge of these just punishments. The holy souls in Heaven rejoice in the mercy of God, over the salvation of the just in Heaven. But they also rejoice in the justice of God, which gives the damned in Hell those just punishments fitting to the unrepented mortal sins of their lives.

2. Jimmy Akin says: “Of course, Our Lord’s command to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us still applies. We must hope that Osama bin Laden repented at the last second, or that he had been crazy for years and not responsible for his actions, or that God might provide for his salvation in some other way.” And although he describes Bin Laden as: “The twisted, evil mastermind responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent human beings….” On the subject of whether he went to Hell, Akin says: “If anyone, judging by outward, human appearances, was ripe for going there, Osama bin Laden was a plausible candidate.”

Only a ‘plausible candidate’ for Hell? What the Hell!!

I don’t agree that the command to love our enemies and pray for them requires us to hope that he “repented at the last second”. Some men choose to do justice, and other men choose to do injustice. But God is Justice by His very Nature. An unjust neighbor might treat you badly, and be in some sense your enemy; you should pray for him in response. But when a man chooses to commit exceedingly wicked acts and to lead innumerable other persons to do the same, he becomes truly the enemy of God. There is a Hell, created by God for just and unending punishment. We should not think and act as if no one belongs there. Our love in response to great wickedness should seek mercy for the victims, and justice for those responsible. The type of love of enemies that Akin suggests is devoid of justice.

As for the idea of repentance in the last moment of life, in general a person can repent from any sin at any time prior to death. But in the case of someone who has committed extreme sins for a long time without any remorse, he is, from a practical point of view, not capable of repenting in only the space of a few seconds. Human persons exist in time and act within time. Repentance requires some space of time. The immense repentance called for by exceedingly great crimes cannot fit into a few seconds or a few minutes. A great Saint can repent of a lifetime of sins in a moment. But an extremely wicked unremorseful man, whose life is a type of cooperation with Satan, and a type of attack on God and humanity, cannot repent from a lifetime of sins in even an hour.

Akins claim that “We must hope that Osama bin Laden repented at the last second” is contrary to reason and contrary to justice.

Akins assertion that “We must hope … that he had been crazy for years and not responsible for his actions” is absurd, contrary to the known facts of the case, and again is a type of ‘love of enemies’ that is devoid of justice. God is Love, God is Mercy, but God is also Justice and Truth. And in God, love, mercy, justice, truth, and even existence are One and are the very Nature of God. Osama bin Laden could not possibly have run a worldwide network of terrorism and have evaded justice for so many years, if he also was so severely mentally ill that he would not be responsible for his actions. Mental illness interferes with normal daily functioning; ordinary tasks become difficult, and difficult tasks become impossible. Severe mental illness does the same, but severely. Furthermore, his video and audio tapes discussing his crimes plainly demonstrate that he understands the nature of his actions and their consequences.

The idea that our Lord requires us to hope that someone is mentally ill, who obviously is not mentally ill, so that he can avoid the punishments of Hell for his exceedingly grave unrepentant sins, has no basis in Catholic teaching, nor in the just love of God.

Akins third claim on this topic is that, if Bin Laden did not repent in the last second, and if he is responsible for his actions because he is not crazy, then “we must hope … that God might provide for his salvation in some other way.” Akin’s comments show that he has no understanding of Catholic teaching on salvation. If a person does not repent from his grave sins before death, and if he is responsible for those sins, then he has died in a state of actual mortal sin. The ‘hope’ that a person who dies unrepentant from actual mortal sin might still somehow be saved by God is contrary to the definitive teaching of the Catholic Faith on salvation, and contrary to Justice, (but entirely in agreement with the ignorant and vaguely pious sentiment that some Catholics are expressing on this topic).

The Magisterium teaches that everyone who dies unrepentant from even a single actual mortal sin will be sent by God to Hell forever.

“Moreover we define that according to the general disposition of God, the souls of those who die in actual mortal sin go down into hell immediately after death and there suffer the pain of hell.” (Pope Benedict XII, On the Beatific Vision of God)

“The punishment of original sin is deprivation of the vision of God, but the punishment of actual sin is the torments of everlasting Hell….” (Pope Innocent III, Denzinger 410)

“But the souls of those who depart this life in actual mortal sin, or in original sin alone, go down straightaway to hell to be punished, but with unequal pains.” (Council of Florence, Sixth Session, 6 July 1439)

Osama Bin Laden certainly died with very many unrepentant actual mortal sins on his conscience. To say otherwise is to speak contrary to truth and justice.

3. Henry Karlson says: “Taking the life from someone else will never be an act of justice – it does not restore what has been lost, but rather, brings further loss onto the world. When we die, we will have to face God. None of us know beforehand what to expect. When someone is killed, the world has lost another life, another good (however abused) has been lost.”

I’m not sure if Karlson is Catholic or Protestant or Buddhist — I can’t tell from his post. But taking a life certainly can be an act of justice. At the beginning of the human race, God decreed the just penalty of death for eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In the Old Testament, God gave the Israelites the just command to take the life of persons who commit certain offenses, from murder, to sexual sins, to profaning the Sabbath. In the New Testament, Jesus spoke a parable about Himself as a returning King:

{19:27} ‘Yet truly, as for those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here, and put them to death before me.’ ”

And in Acts of the Apostles, Saint Peter, the first Pope, decreed a sentence of death against a couple who attempted to deceive the Church in order to gain power and influence within the Church.

{5:9} And Peter said to her: “Why have you agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they shall carry you out!”

Karlson’s view is not a Catholic view, but a liberal socio-political view, disguised as Catholicism. (The same problem sometimes occurs also on the right, with conservative political and social views being offered as if they were Catholicism.) And this becomes all the more clear as he continues by saying: “Bin Laden, obviously, was not poor, but he exploited them, having learned how to do so by the leaders of the West.”

I don’t think that Bin Laden’s main sin was exploiting the poor; his main sins were murder, terrorism, mass murder, more terrorism, serial mass murder, and using religion to accomplish these grave crimes. Yet somehow Karlson turns the discussion into an indictment of Western exploitation of the poor. But there are fewer poor persons in the West, and far more poor persons in other nations and cultures.

Karlson says: “None of us know beforehand what to expect.” Actually, there is a small subset of humanity who have discovered an amazing way to know what to expect at the judgment of God after death. This rarely practiced esoteric method, used to discern what would otherwise seem impossible to know, goes by the technical theological term: examination of conscience.

Human nature is good. But a human person who chooses to use his good nature to do great evil without repentance is choosing to make his life evil, not good.

“Therefore, when the lord of the vineyard arrives, what will he do to those farmers?”
“He will bring those evil men to an evil end….” (Mt 21:40-41)

4. For my part, as a devout practicing Catholic, I say that Osama Bin Laden committed innumerable actual mortal sins, and he admitted his sins publicly in video and audio messages to the world, and he died unrepentant from those sins. I am absolutely certain that, after his death, Bin Laden was judged by God and sent to eternal condemnation in the fires of Hell. And among the unequal pains of Hell, I am certain that his sufferings are among the worst.

I rejoice that God gave the world justice and mercy on this day, on the day of Divine Mercy and on the day of the beatification of a holy Pope who taught the world right from wrong. I recognize that the providence of God was at work in this just act, in the killing of a wicked unrepentant man, who was more like a devil than a human being. I am certain that this wicked man is being punished, now and forever, in the fires of Hell. And when I consider his torturous suffering in the darkest depths of Hell, I rejoice in the justice of God.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and Bible translator

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2 Responses to Catholic commentary on the death of Bin Laden

  1. Michael N. says:

    Wonderful post Ron! I always appreciate your factually honest and candid views on the Church and her teachings. I know the question of Bin Laden’s salvation are circling the blogosphere and this will certainly help clear up the truth for those less rooted in our faith.

  2. Adam Barnett says:

    Thank you for this clear defense of the Catholic Church’s teaching on salvation and the mercy/justice of God. Keep up the good work, Ron!

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