Are assassinations ever acceptable?


Would it have been morally permissible to stealthily kill Hitler before the events of September 1939? I mean, to a certain extent, Hitler is counted as a “Military target”


Sure if you are in a just war then government officials are fair game.


Before, no. Once the war had begun he’d be a legitimate target. Until then not.


Do you have any Church document to confirm this?

I was under the impression assassination is unacceptable. :thinking:


Short answer is that at least under secular law there is a difference between a targeted killing and an assassination. If a sniper shoots an enemy general, that’s not an “assassination.”

If I remember my law of war stuff correctly, the controlling factor is usually whether the individual is a legitimate target. Military personnel obviously are, and I think Hitler would qualify as the supreme commander of the German military. Someone like the Nazi equivalent of the secretary of the treasury probably wouldn’t be, though.


Wouldn’t this have to be in the theatre of operations, as part of a conflict, though?

I would’ve thought assassination separate from that would be unacceptable.


Maybe, but we can lawyer all day about where the theater of operations is. If Hitler is directing military operations from his bunker somewhere, that bunker might well be a military site, even if it’s thousands of miles from the front lines. No more troubling that bombing a munitions plant in Germany even though the bulk of the fighting is taking place in Normandy.


That makes sense. It’s still hard to define exactly when and where this would be justified, however. To take another example, say he’s at a state function. That could be part of military operations, as the state is at war. Is it? Say he’s leading a military parade or inspecting his troops. That could be said to be part of his role in the war effort. Is it? Say he’s reading military statistics and casualty reports over breakfast at home. That could also be placed under the same remit. Except, should it be? It’s hard to know where the line is where killing occurs apart from direct military operations. My understanding was the Church has never been a supporter of such acts.


I have no church document, only my own reaction. Killing your enemy in war is acceptable. Assassination is targeted killing.
Therefore (it seems to me) if you are at war and your target is a legitimate military target, assassination is no worse than any other method of killing your enemies.
As usual I speak under correction from those wiser and better taught than myself.


By this logic however, Hitler could also- morally- hire an assassin to kill Roosevelt, Churchill or Stalin. It seems to me that the innately cowardly and dishonourable character of assassination isn’t something the Church would commend. Someone who doesn’t choose to fight shouldn’t be killed, even if they are leading an army.

I too

however. God Bless!


You raise a good point but I think the morality of war and the morality of the methods used in war are separate issues. Were Allied soldiers guilty of murder for using rifles, on the ground that Nazi soldiers were guilty for using rifles when they invaded other nations?

Hitler was wrong not because he might have used assassination but because he launched an unjustifiable war.

If–and only if–your war is just, then you may justifiably kill your enemy. In which case I think you may justifiably use assassination on legitimate enemy targets.

God’s blessing to you. It’s good to talk with those who know how to argue civilly. :slight_smile:


I think the difference here, and the reason why we could consider it morally justified for the Allied forces to assassinate Hitler, but not for him to assassinate their leaders, is the fact that the Allies were fighting a “just war” against Hitler, in which he was the perpetrator.

St. Augustine and St. Aquinas lay out guidelines for what can be considered a “just war”, and the Allies were undoubtedly within those boundaries.


Well, it seems you are right! I just did a quick google search and found this:

‘Pope Pius XII supported efforts to assassinate Adolf Hitler during World War II.’

So it seems you’ve been vindicated. I mean, who am I to argue with the great Pius XII?

And I think civil argument is something this forum direly needs. God Bless!


I think your post make the best sense.


Before war was declared? The answer from any theologian at the time would have been no. In hindsight, with knowledge of what Hitler had planned, most of us would say yes. If the world had taken action against Germany during its’ rearmament and aggression against Austria and Czechoslovakia, it may not have been necessary to kill anyone.


I thought the Pope was involved in an attempt, no?


Don’t think so. The pope in 1937 (Pius XI?) issued an encyclical titled “Mit Brennender Sorge” which was to be read from the pulpit of all RC churches in Germany. It very emphatically denounced the treatment of the Jewish population by Hitler and his army. But I think that was the only thing that was antagonistic of the Hitler regime by the Vatican. One has to remember that the Vatican is in Italy, part of the Axis at that time. Had the pope don’t anything outright, Hitler would have told Mussolini to deliver the Pontiff to Berlin.

And I doubt the Pope has any part in the assassination attempt by German Col. Von Stauffenberg as told in the Tom Cruise movie, Valkyrie.


I don’t think so either, the 1944 attempt on Hitler was by German military officers. The 3rd Reich’s leadership was a suspicious bunch, particularly during the latter phases of the war, but they didn’t have any suspicions about Pius XII in regards to this.


I had never heard of Pius XII engaged in any assassination attempts during WWII. It would have been very risky for Pius to take such a provocative move, especially with Catholics on both sides of the war in Europe, as well as Catholics in neutral states. If it happened, it was way under the radar.

However, a former co-worker told me that Gregory XIII put out a hit on Elizabeth I. I don’t know if its true, or just something said as far as propaganda.


I don’t think so either. I couldn’t remember what I had watched about all that stuff going on with the Pope trying to be sneaky about hiding Jews and things. Yes, he was pretty cool. Had to play the cards careful!

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit