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Dear Father Angelo,

I ask you a question on a matter that came out during a discussion with some friends.

If a person under a life threat commits a murder (or another sin), is it a mortal sin?

Thanks in advance for your reply

Answer from the priest

Dear Son,

1. we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).

Indeed, it is to Him that we must be responsible for our life and our actions.

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor 5:10).

2. Therefore, if someone commands you to murder or even commit a mortal sin under threat of death, you must be willing to sacrifice your life.

Says the Lord: “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?” (Lk 9:26).

And also: “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life?” (Mt 16:26).

3. Sacred Scripture presents us with very beautiful testimonies of people who preferred death rather than give in to sin.

In the Old Testament we have the case of Susanna. To the wicked judges who threatened to have her put to death if she refused their unclean desires, she replied: “I am completely trapped.

If I yield, it will be my death; if I refuse, I cannot escape your power.

Yet it is better for me to fall into your power without guilt than to sin before the Lord” (Dn 13:22-23).

They succeeded in sentencing her to death, but before her execution God raised the spirit of a young man (Daniel) who freed her by exposing the contradictions of the two judges who had accused her.

4. We have the very eloquent testimony of John the Baptist who considered it a serious sin of omission to remain silent in the face of Herod’s scandalous behaviour.

And precisely because he spoke, he suffered his beheading.

Jesus praised him also for his supreme testimony by saying of him that he was “a burning and shining lamp” (Jn 5:35).

By saying “burning and shining”, that is continuing to the present and not stopping in the past, he meant that we too must do the same thing.

5. Furthermore, in the primitive Church, so many Christians accepted to be persecuted and even killed in order not to carry out the idolatrous act of burning incense in front of the statue of the Emperor.

And regarding these, here is what we read in the book of Revelation: “Whoever has ears ought to hear these words. Anyone destined for captivity goes into captivity. Anyone destined to be slain by the sword shall be slain by the sword.

Such is the faithful endurance of the holy ones” (Ap 13:9-10).

6. I like to recall what John Paul II wrote in the encyclical Veritatis Splendor: “Martyrdom is an outstanding sign of the holiness of the Church. Fidelity to God’s holy law, witnessed to by death, is a solemn proclamation and missionary commitment usque ad sanguinem, so that the splendour of moral truth may be undimmed in the behaviour and thinking of individuals and society.

This witness makes an extraordinarily valuable contribution to warding off, in civil society and within the ecclesial communities themselves, a headlong plunge into the most dangerous crisis which can afflict man: the confusion between good and evil, which makes it impossible to build up and to preserve the moral order of individuals and communities.

By their eloquent and attractive example of a life completely transfigured by the splendour of moral truth, the martyrs and, in general, all the Church’s Saints, light up every period of history by reawakening its moral sense.

By witnessing fully to the good, they are a living reproof to those who transgress the law (cf. Wis 2:12), and they make the words of the Prophet echo ever afresh: «Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!» (Is 5:20)” (VS 93).

7. There are not a few people who today even within the Church suffer because of what John Paul II defined as “the most dangerous crisis which can afflict man: the confusion between good and evil“.

And if they do not suffer the martyrdom of blood, they live a new kind of daily martyrdom, the one St. Peter speaks of when he speaks of Lot the just man: “for day after day that righteous man living among them was tormented in his righteous soul at the lawless deeds that he saw and heard” (2 Pt 2:8).

However, “the Lord knows how to rescue the devout from trial and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who follow the flesh with its depraved desire and show contempt for lordship” (2 Pt 2:9-10).

With the hope that you can give the brightest testimony to Christ and the Gospel, I assure you of my prayers and I bless you.

Father Angelo