Has anyone ever seen the movie “Boondock Saints”?

I was wondering if the actions portrayed in that film would be morally wrong, or right, to kill people who were evil yet the law was either unable, or unwilling to stop them.

Assuming the people really were evil, hypothetically, what is right and what is wrong?

For example, would it have been wrong for a German Catholic civilian to kill Hitler?

I’d assume it would be moral for a state to wage war and take life under certain circumstances, but where in Catholic teaching is the state granted an exclusive monopoly of violence?

Opinions, ideas?

Maybe that is a starting point.

Thanks for your reply, but the whole point of the thread was to determine whether for instance killing Hitler would have been evil or not. :slight_smile:

I don’t think it is illegal to kill someone if they are, in your opinion, attempting to kill someone else. As an example, I remember a case of a motorist that saw a highway patrolman being assaulted by another motorist. The patrolman was shot, if my memory serves. The motorist whipped out his hunting rifle and killed the person that shot the patrolman. I think he was given a medal. It is a true story.

I have no doubt there are Catholics that would say this is a grave sin, killing the criminal. I think they are wrong. I would be surprised if anyone in a position of authority in the Church would come out against it. I would think most people would, if they could, stop a crime in progress. The means that you use to stop it is not important. The catechism does teach that it is ok to kill to prevent killing.

What a bad question you ask. Suppose you know someone that killed someone and that person is free. I believe you are morally compelled to tell the police, at a minimum. If you fear that the person may kill again, and he does, why are you not somewhat responsible for the subsequent death?

Justice and the enforcement of laws is a civil function that is left to governments. It is not morally licit to “take the law into your own hands”. If you perceive the justice system to be corrupt, inept or ineffective, then struggle to fix the system, not exact vengeance.

Revenge not yourselves, my dearly beloved; but give place unto wrath, for it is written: Revenge is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord. [Romans 12:19 (DR)]

This is to be differentiated from self-defense.

The problem is, this makes a lot of sense in situations where law and order are dependable. If you live in a middle class section of the western world this is the obvious conclusion.

However, there are places even in America where the cops simply don’t care what goes on and they never will. What then?

Or what if you live in a place like Burma or The Sudan?

I’m surprised nobody seems interested in this question. I guess talking about sex is far more interesting (which 90% of the threads on this board seem to be about).


I’m interested in the question!

As far as the Boondock Saints go . . . we must answer unequivocally that their actions were wrong and immoral. In their case (and seemingly in every case of actual vigilantism) they actively sought out evil men and with premeditation and deliberation directly intended to kill them.

Private citizens (of any government) can’t directly intend to kill someone in that premeditated manner. That would be murder, which is forbidden.

Sometimes private citizens do kill lawfully and it is justifiable in self-defense or in defense of another, but here their intention is not to kill the other person, and the principle of double effect is employed.

The principle of double effect doesn’t seem to be able to employed the same way to killing done by lawful authorities or officials because often their intent is to kill, and it is often premeditated, at it is often in a situation where there is no direct and immediate threat of violence from the aggressor: two examples would be administering a penalty of death and in war. Those examples seem to be lawful not through a strict application of the principle of double effect but rather because the actions are legal, consistent with natural law, and reasonable (if they actually are).

Those are my initial thoughts. I would certainly like to refine them and reserve the right to alter them, especially if anything I said is inconsistent with the mind of the Church on these matters.:thumbsup:

What do you think?

Thank you for replying to my thread!

The thing about “any government” having the automatic monopoly of violence though, just does not gel in my mind.

For example, the government is really just those with the most weapons or power in many places. Doesn’t it have to be a legitimate government, with its right to rule based in natural law and in accordance with Catholic morality?

Because if the answer is no, “any” government is good enough, then all it takes is weapons and money, and then in 75% of the world you can become the government. Think of those African dictators like Idi Amin and that guy from Zaire. This means power = right and this is certainly not in accordance with Catholic teaching.

Secondly, there are places where the cops simply do not care. For example, where I live, in Chicago, Cabrini Green up near Lincoln Park (now a nice neighborhood) used to be a literal no mans land, not even the police could go into those housing projects. Snipers were killing kids, drug dealers were everywhere and some of the worst crimes imaginable were going on during the 1970s and 80s. The mayors didn’t care, Old Man Daley wanted to build high-rises to “let God take the blacks, we don’t want em”.

There was effectively no law there, it was like Somalia (especially in the mid to late 80s). Would it be wrong for a man to take the law into his hands there and exact his own justice?

So I guess we could boil it down to this:

a) Does the authority have to be moral and lawful?
b) Does the authority have to be de facto (not just de jure)?
c) If there is genuinely no authority, not even de jure (i.e., somalia) then what?

You’re welcome!

For clarification, what I meant by my parenthetical “any government” was to point out that private citizens of whatever government (whether good or bad) are not usually not morally permitted to intentionally kill, because that would be murder.

As far as bad governments go – I think the answer to your question is that intentional killing is possibly moral when done under authority or office, but that doesn’t mean that all killing done under authority or office is moral.

Thus, any government official of any government (good or bad) who abuses his authority and imposes death upon innocent men or women would be committing an immoral act. A police officer who uses excessive force may be committing an immoral act. A soldier who uses excessive force against civilians may be committing an immoral act.

Turning to you three questions, I would submit that:
a) The authority has to be the legitimate authority and the circumstances of its use of intentional killing must evaluated in order to determine if it moral or not. The point is that we can evaluate whether or not an authority’s intentional killing is moral or not – in the case of an individual there seems to be no evaluation necessary, because intentional killing is forbidden to them…

b)The authority has to be de jure and not just de facto. (I think you might be conflating those terms? Or am I?) I take de jure to mean under color of law and de facto to mean only “in practice”.

c)If there is no legitimate authority, not even *de facto *(again, I think that would be the term you wanted here), then the question is a bit difficult. My guess would be that in a situation of complete anarchy that the legitimate authority would be confined to whatever subsidiary groups do exist. The basic unit would be the family, and the parents would have authority. Perhaps tribes or municipalities would form and possess legitimate authority.

What do you think?

I think it is entirely possible to live in a place where it would not be evil or even morally good for citizens to take up arms against evil. I would count a Sudanese democratic revolutionary as courageous and consider him to be on the moral side of right if he fought againt the evil and corruption that has taken so many lives there. Even in our country, a situation might exist where I would be willing to take the law into my own hands. If I knew my family was in danger by someone bent on killing one of them, yet the law would not act until they actually broke in threatened them, I would not wait. Obviously, such a situation is fantastic since I would have to know the danger was real and not just idle threats.

well when it comes down to it, there are words of St Augustine of Hippo:

Love the sinner, hate the sin.

But I just don’t think you should kill someone, even if they are evil, because you are still killing someone, regardless of their nature and even if you mean good intent, you can actually run the risk of becoming like them.

As has been said, ‘one cannot do evil so that good may result from it.’

For me, though, I think the main reason not to do it is because regardless of how evil they are, they still have the potential to be good, and killing them will destroy any hope of reconciliation with God, and we should grab that hope and use it to help them as close as we can according to the Word

The moral law still trumps civil law, granted if your going to put it into that situation you ought to be very, very cautious. If you disagree, would you say that if the government gave you an order to do something you thought was immoral, would “I was just following orders” be a viable offence? I think it is entirely possible for an insurrection to be moral, but that gets very sticky. Prudently I doubt that it is often the best means.

Hi guys, i am a young adult, and i have been having a very hard time in deciding what i should do with my life. and, as silly as it sounds, it seems a though i almost feel called to do something like “Vigilanteism” but i just dont know if it is morall acceptable. some people argue no, but i strongly believe yes. can anyone help me? and if this is completely stupid just let me know

Read post 2.

for Pete posted

IMHO, God doesn’t call one to do evil…and taking the law into ones own hands should be considerd evil, what do you think? Talking it over with your priest, is what I think you should consider very strongly.

FYI - The poster you responded to is a Protestant, so he has no priest. He has posted once and that was to announce his desire to be called to vigilantism. Read between the lines.

Technically actual vigilantism properly so-called is entirely licit–if one means the Old West’s vigilance committees. They were the law and order; there was no essentially no state.

They were generally much better than the alternative, yahoos like Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson.

Otherwise, I incline to think that the Social Contract model is the most sensible: the state’s authority is licit when it is not so bad as to make not having it preferable. In strict contractarian terms, when it does not infringe those rights/deny those securities one would have even in the state of nature.

Before anyone gets on their high (and yet illiterate in French, I’ll wager) horse about Rousseau and the Social Contract, understand that it was never intended as a model of how the state came into being: it is a model of how the state functions. And fundamentally, society is an implied contract–think about it. How would you describe your relationship to your community? As a mesh of obligations and dependencies? Well, what do we call the tools we use to organize our obligations and dependencies? Gee, Davy, do you think it might be a contract?


I was re-thinking this thread, and I decided on the real question I want to propose. It is not so much about vigilanteism (commonly called), but the real question of what is the state and where does its objective moral power come from.

We all know there ought to be some kind of state (most of us anyway), and any kind of society (polity, democracy, monarchy, theocracy etc) needs people to follow laws.

Why should we follow laws though? Is it because we fear “violent death” (Hobbes) or because the law helps us to be good (Plato). Perhaps a combination of the two, the proportion of which vary depending on the personal motivations of each person?

Then we could ask, what makes a law a law, and not the simple imposition of some upon many? Does a law have to conform to an objective, transcendent good in order to be a true law, or can anything be a law as long as the power and will exists to make it so? In other words- does might make right, or do only good laws deserve the status of being regarded as laws?

Vigilantism comes into play in regards to two situations, firstly, unjust laws, and secondly, laws that are not enforced.

In the first case, consider where a law is unjust- for example the laws of the USSR in Poland during the Soviet Era in regard to the suppression of Polish culture and the seminaries.

Two options seem to come from this:

a) The government exists by God’s providence, therefore you have to obey it. This seems to be what St. Paul is saying in Romans. Disobeying the government in itself is a sin. Even if it says not to worship God. Might makes right, but all comes from providence.

This seems plainly ridiculous. Possible in theory in Mohammedanism with its emphasis on God’s total transcendence and inscrutable will, but not Catholic Christianity. However, this seems to be the main argument which American Christians make in regards to this American government. Either they are not thinking or making a case of special pleading (and usually try to pretend that our founders were working from Christian ideals).

b) Government has no special authority in itself. Laws have to conform to objective moral standards in order to be called true laws.

If this is true then, it is like the thin edge of a wedge. Is the government then, really any kind of moral power in itself? Hastrman says that you should not break the law unless you would rather have the whole system dissapear “the state’s authority is licit when it is not so bad as to make not having it preferable” (Hastrman). Seems like a reasonable way of coming up with something workable in practice, but what about in terms of theology?

The question really comes down not to whether or not the government can imprison/kill you, but whether defying its law (legitimate or not) is a sin.

In God’s eyes then, what makes the state so special so that going against its authority is a sin?

Until I get a good answer, I will have to maintain that the state is simply a tool to get a job done without any moral power in itself, and therefore, its authority only extends as so far as it does good.

WE dont know if the the Motorist that killed the guy that killed the Cop was in danger for his life. If he was then he killed in self defence which is right if not he took the law into his own hands.

If a person knows someone who commited a murder they must report it to the Police to try and prevent it from happening again and also they could be charged with accesory to the crime.


Boondock saints is my favorite movie of all time its pretty much the reason why i got back into my religion is because these two were so dedicated to their religion that they are dedicated to eliminate the evil and the good shall live and it deminstrates why people should not kill first or the inocent instead become vigilantes and search out the wicked and create peace.

We can use force is self-defense, and in defense of others. That is where the vigilantes of the Old West originated. There was no law to protect the people.

Today, most of the time, it is used as an excuse for paying back perceived wrongs.

I assume the motorist who shot the criminal who shot the policeman was defending the policeman’s life, not deciding the criminal deserved the death sentence and executing him. I also assume he did not shoot to kill, but to stop the criminal from shooting again.

(And, yeah, I know what “assume” means! :D)


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