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Archbishop Nichols is right not to comment on Bin Laden’s killing

Until we know the facts, it is best to say nothing

By on Friday, 6 May 2011

Soldiers keep guard outside the compound where Osama bin Laden was killed (CNS photo/Faisal Mahmood, Reuters)

Soldiers keep guard outside the compound where Osama bin Laden was killed (CNS photo/Faisal Mahmood, Reuters)

There has been more than enough commentary on the death of Osama bin Laden, much of it fuelled by the strange inconsistencies in the story, a story which, up to now, has not yet assumed its final shape. It is in itself remarkable that the US government did not sit down and get all the details it wished to announce into some sort of order, before announcing that Bin Laden was dead. It would not have taken long, and could quite easily have been done. As it is huge questions remain. This one will run and run.

The moral aspects of the story came to the fore when the Archbishop of Canterbury was questioned on whether the killing of Bin Laden was right or not. This is how the Archbishop’s response was reported in the Daily Telegraph:

At a press conference at Lambeth Palace, The Daily Telegraph asked Dr Williams whether he thought the US had been right to kill Bin Laden.
After declining to respond initially, he later replied: “I think the killing of an unarmed man is always going to leave a very uncomfortable feeling, because it doesn’t look as if justice is seen to be done in those circumstances.
“I think it’s also true that the different versions of events that have emerged in recent days have not done a great deal to help here. I don’t know full details any more than anyone else does. But I do believe that in such circumstances when we are faced with someone who was manifestly a war criminal, in terms of the atrocities inflicted, it is important that justice is seen to be observed.”

There are two interesting things to note here. The first is that the archbishop is not talking about justice but the appearance of justice, or justice being “seen to be done”. That is rather an important distinction. It might mean that the archbishop is not criticising the killing of Bin Laden but rather the way Bin Laden was killed; in other words, he is regretting the way this act appears to the world, perhaps even to the Muslim world. The second thing to note is the phrase “after declining to respond initially”. Presumably the press conference was about something else, and the archbishop was taken off his guard. Well, if he did not want to comment on the matter, he was in good company. The Vatican has said nothing about the morality of the killing, only about the morality of celebrating someone’s death.

And from the same Telegraph report we have the following: “A spokesman for Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, said the Church would not be commenting on the killing of the al-Qaeda leader.”

This is in fact the correct reaction, and the reason lies in what Rowan Williams is quoted as saying above. We do not know the facts; or at least the facts are at present hard to discern clearly. Any judgment about the morality of this killing will depend on the circumstances in which it took place. And while the circumstances are unclear, we have nothing on which to base a judgment. Therefore it is best at present to say nothing.

  • Bwaj

    Read Gen:9.6 Rmns:13.4-5 St. Mtt:26.52: those in civil government have authority to use the death penalty and many in the Catholic Church appease false religions.

  • Anonymous

    Perhaps the following comment might be in order.

    If you lead an organisation which slaughters Christians at, as in Baghdad last October and in Alexandria on New Year’s Eve, you may expect God’s vengeance in short order.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry: I should have said “Christians at worship”.

  • Anonymous

    WHAT!!!!?????

    Are you seriously suggesting that an Archbishop refrains from Preaching the Gospel?

    And I’m sorry but what facts are there to know?

    One single shot fired against the soldiers – note that – soldiers – not policemen – by Osama’s courier.

    Osama – unarmed – unable to resist arrest [something which is legally mandatory under international law] subsequently shot twice through the head.

    No ‘immediate direct lethal threat by an unjust aggressor’ – which is the ONLY justification for recourse to an exacted Death Penalty [self defence of person, individual, community or state]

    Therefore Murder – and Judicial Murder at that – That’s a latae sententiae excommunicable offence in itself – so I think Holy Mother Church would not have many problems discerning or deliberating the morality of the issue.

    Gravely Sinful Q.E.D.
    The possible circumstances mitigating it are all negated
    .

    And +Vin should say so. He’s a successor to the Apostles!

    BUT

    More than this an Archbishop has a moral and pastoral duty to call the faithful to prayer for all sinners – especially the soul of such a great public sinner as Osama – and all those terrorists and fundamentalists who engage in such deplorable crimes that they should turn away from violence. But we don’t DO real prayer like that any more do we? No we don’t publicly pray for our enemies – too awkward and insensitive isn’t it?

    PLUS

    He is morally obliged to pastorally instruct the faithful on their moral demanour and speech regarding Osama’s death [let alone the fact that he was judicialy murdered] that we are most definitely NOT to vindictively

    rejoice in it [as Fr Lombardi immediately told the world]

    PLUS

    It’s about time Our Illustrious Archbishop actually called out the President who declared ‘Justice has been served’ for the genocidal monster that he is in regard to his obsession with legislation regarding the furtherance of the systemic slaughter of the unborn – rather than His Grace

    reprimanding those around him who denounce the culture of Death [and I think we all know who I mean]

    We’re all getting a little bit sick of His Grace’s silence.

    He could have stated his message candidly – or in a more sensitive,evangelical way – but silence on the issue is affirmation by default and conspiratorial consent to it by omission.

    Yes?

    But no – it can’t be can it? because you’ve just told us that +Vin keeping schtum [what's new!?] is the right reaction?!!

    When are you clergy actually going to start defending the faith?

    Whatsoever you do the least of my brothers?

    Lord, who is my neighbour?

    Now I’ve already written about Osama on Dr Oddie’s thread – so please do not think I;m some woolly liberal willing to excuse the murder of thousands – his actions led to the murder of a relation and an ex-student of mine.

    But I expect my Archbishop to staunchly definitively speak out for the Church on every issue which affects us.

    I most certainly do not approve of the silence.

  • Anonymous


    While Catholics believe the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit and that it is true, one cannot take individual biblical quotes or passages and say each one is literally true, Pope Benedict XVI said.’

    Catholic Herald, Thursday, 5 May 2011

    http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2011/05/05/pope-insists-bibles-truth-is-found-in-its-totality/

  • Anonymous

    At least another Christian leader spoke out – even if it was not a popular message – Dr. Rowan Williams
    . It was very pleasing to see.

  • ronnie

    It is time that the catholic church,and church of England speaks out on matters that are of vital importance to the degree that they should.For example abortion,their silence is deafening.

  • ronnie

    The silence from the church ,and its leaders ,I dont approve of either. However it is no surprise when they donot hold to church teachings,for example the soho -so called masses, which archbishop Nichols and archbishop longley –now archbishop of Birmingham —-both approve of. Ibelieve it is time our church leaders speak out on abortion. The silence on this is deafening.

  • A Dadinas

    Does it truly matter how Bin Laden died, the fact that he died is enough, it will be more troubled if he was captured and put to trial.

  • Dcruz

    It is right not to comment on Bin Ladens killing and his death..But Bin Laden is allowed or sanctioned in his holy book to kill infidels where ever they are.

  • Dcruz

    The Archbishop is right not to comment on Bin Laden’s death as he has a big network in Londonistan U.k.