Matt C. Abbott
Priest: ex-sniper Chris Kyle was 'American hero'
By Matt C. Abbott
February 5, 2013

In light of the recent news that retired Navy SEAL sniper, best-selling author and reality TV personality Chris Kyle was shot and killed by a troubled former Marine whom he was trying to help, I've asked Father John Trigilio Jr., noted priest-author-theologian and president of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy – whom I've quoted at length in several previous columns – to comment on the morality of being a sniper.

Father Trigilio's response is as follows (slightly edited):

    Former U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle was tragically murdered. He, however, did not murder anyone even though he killed (confirmed) 160 people during his military service. Those targets were valid military objectives. Morally speaking, Kyle was like any other sailor, soldier, airman, or marine in that they officially defend and protect our nation from all enemies, foreign and domestic.

    Unjust aggressors, particularly those classified as combatants, can be either military or civilian. They are legitimate targets, whether it be a drone or sniper, one soldier or a platoon. Military snipers are not hit-men as in the case of the mob. Snipers are not seeking revenge; they are doing their duty as members of the armed forces defending their nation. What distinguishes them from other soldiers is that the sniper has one particular target, whereas the rest of the troops have a broader objective, usually the capture of a particular location or a disabling of a military installation.

    The natural moral law and the just war doctrine make it clear that all military personnel are obligated to distinguish combatants from non-combatants. Formerly, the distinction was between military and civilian. The former are valid targets; the latter are exempt. Since modern times and guerrilla warfare tactics, civilians have armed themselves in many places; and when dealing with terrorists like al Qaeda, anyone of either gender and any age who bears a weapon (gun or explosive) is now a legitimate target.

    Deadly force is not always the proper solution and should be a last resort; however, when a known person who is guilty of unjust deaths, murders, tortures and other atrocities and most likely will continue, or worse, escalate the violence with others, then they become a target for a sniper.

    Chris Kyle was an American hero. While we do not rejoice that 160 people were killed, we are grateful that 160 unjust aggressors and enemies of our country were neutralized. Military and police are required to use proportionate force in repelling or stopping the enemy. That means, if possible, enemy troops should be able to surrender, or if they refuse, better to non-lethally wound than to kill. Obviously, in heat of battle, that may not always be possible. Snipers have very precise targets while the average soldier is concerned with any and all combatant (armed) enemies, whether in uniform or not.

    Count Claus von Stauffenberg, who attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler, was doing precisely the same thing as Chris Kyle in that both sought to eliminate a specific target in order to save many more lives. John of Saxony developed criteria for tyrannicide, whereby those in the military may assassinate a true tyrant or terrorist (e.g., Hitler, Stalin, bin Laden, etc.) Like the state executioner who implements capital punishment, it is generally held that they are not culpable of unjust killing, whereas the judge and/or jury who impose the death penalty might be if the decision was not morally determined. Police or military snipers must be authorized by legitimate authority and their targets must be specific. The moral criteria upon which a target is chosen falls upon the superior(s) who select(s) the person to the sniper for his mission.

    It is sad irony that Chris Kyle was killed not by enemy combatants, but by a mentally-disturbed fellow countryman. Not friendly fire, so to speak, but Kyle was doing what he had been doing since leaving the Navy, i.e., helping veterans who showed signs of battle-fatigue (Delayed Stress Syndrome). Here he was trying to help his assailant and instead became an innocent victim of senseless violence. He deserves a hero's funeral and to be given full honors.

    Not every soldier can be a sniper. Besides the training and ability needed, one must also have the stamina and strength to kill someone by name as most in the military, when in battle, know the enemy only by uniform. Snipers, therefore, are an extraordinary element of a just war; the overwhelming majority of troops will be the ordinary means. Saddam Hussein was able to be captured; Osama bin Laden was not. Circumstances and situations change with fluidity during operations of war or counter-terrorism.

    Former Navy SEAL Kyle saved many lives by eliminating those who would have inflicted far more innocent and unjust injuries and casualties.

Related links:

Confraternity of Catholic Clergy

"Just War Doctrine"

© Matt C. Abbott


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He also has an Associate in Applied Science degree in business management from Triton College. Abbott has been interviewed on MSNBC, Bill Martinez Live, WOSU Radio in Ohio, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's 'Unsolved' podcast, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) and WISC-TV (CBS) in Madison, Wis., and has been quoted in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and other media outlets. In 2005 and 2006, he was among the first writers to expose former cardinal Theodore McCarrick's abuse of power with and sexual harassment of seminarians. He can be reached at

(Note: I welcome thoughtful feedback and story ideas. If you want our correspondence to remain confidential, please specify as such in your initial email to me. However, I reserve the right to forward and/or publish emails that are accusatory, insulting or threatening in nature, even if they're marked confidential. Also, if you give me permission to publish a quote of yours, please do not contact me at a later time to request that I delete your name. Only in limited circumstances will I quote anonymous sources. Thank you and God bless!)


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