I asked Father Angel Sotelo, a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Fresno, for his perspective on the Trayvon Martin tragedy.
Father Sotelo's comments are as follows:
[Regarding] the Trayvon Martin case, I would step back from the racial tension and look at how this started. Basically, the 911 dispatcher was right to ask in so many words, 'Are you, George Zimmerman, a private citizen, not a police officer, walking around that neighborhood with a loaded firearm, following an African-American youth who has not harmed you or even threatened to harm you?' When Zimmerman responded yes, he should have heeded the advice that followed, 'You don't need to be doing that.'
In other words, this isn't the Hollywood movie Death Wish. You're not Charles Bronson. And without professional training and in fact with your background of having assaulted a police officer, you are the last person who should be out playing 'cops and robbers' with a loaded gun. No good can come of this. The rest is history. Trayvon apparently assaulted Zimmerman who then shot him to death.
In a racially-charged situation, people will draw immediate conclusions before all the facts are in, which is precisely what has happened here. At first, Trayvon was painted as the innocent youth who was gunned down in cold blood and Zimmerman the racist prowler looking for an excuse to kill a black youth. Now it is Trayvon who is being painted as a black thug, physically large, delinquent, and up to no good on that night.
The facts are not in, and people should examine once again whether it is fair or Christian to try either of these men in the court of public opinion. But what has been established clearly exposes the actions of George Zimmerman as the cause of the tragedy that ensued. We need to allow professionally trained and responsible officers of the law to enforce the law, when and if the law is broken.
We do not need to go chasing down every suspicious character who walks into our neighborhood, with a loaded gun, and then cry foul when that person assaults us and we are vilified for shooting him. It is not rocket science that a loaded gun fired at close range inflicts fatal wounds. Nor is it hidden from our common sense that the law does not permit the inflicting of fatal wounds on a fellow citizen unless they come onto our property and gravely threaten us or our loved ones.
George Zimmerman may turn out to be innocent of the crime of murder. He certainly is not innocent of recklessly endangering human life and of having taken law enforcement into his own hands.
My own comment: What makes the case against Zimmerman murky is Florida's Stand Your Ground law.
Regarding the morality of self-defense in general, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:
The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. 'The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one's own life; and the killing of the aggressor. . . . The one is intended, the other is not.' (no. 2263)
Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one's own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow: If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful. . . . Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one's own life than of another's. (no. 2264)