Responding to reports of the death of Osama bin Laden, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, released a brief written statement: "Osama bin Laden, as we all know, bore the most serious responsibility for spreading divisions and hatred among populations, causing the deaths of innumerable people, and manipulating religions to this end.
"In the face of a man's death, a Christian never rejoices,” Father Lombardi said, “but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred," the spokesman said.
Reaction around the Christian world to the death of Bin Laden followed the somber tone, for the most part, set by the Vatican statement. There were some notable exceptions. Peruvian President Alan Garcia told reporters Pope John Paul II should get credit for the death of Osama bin Laden. The late pope was beatified on Sunday and according to Garcia says: "His first miracle was to remove from the world the incarnation of evil, the demonic incarnation of crime and hatred, giving us the news that the person who blew up towers and buildings is no longer."
In Pakistan, where Bin Laden was killed after U.S. forces assaulted his compound on May 1, Christians were anxious in the aftermath of the attack. The Archbishop Emeritus of Lahore, Lawrence Saldanha said, “We are a soft target as they cannot attack America. We demand security. The government should control any retaliation.”
But despite the risk of short-term retaliation against Christians, the Archbishop said he thought bin Laden’s killing could return balance to the war-torn society of Pakistan. Archbishop Lawrence was hopeful that the killing of world’s most wanted terrorist would reduce the militant radicalism that has engulfed Pakistan in recent years. “At last we have hope that things will get better gradually,” he said.
“Many looked on bin Laden as a hero of the Islamic revolution. But he was a role model of extremism and a threat to world peace. His death will change the complexion and decentralize as well as demystify extremism,” the archbishop said.
Christian schools and other institutes were closed and churches put on guard in Pakistan's main cities out of fear of possible repercussions on the Christian minorities there by Taliban groups. Paul Bhatti, a government adviser for religious minorities in Pakistan, said that "the situation is tense."
"In fact, there are strong fears of reactions -- senseless reactions -- against the Christian minorities. The government is giving the maximum attention to prevention measures," he said.
Father Mario Rodrigues, director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Pakistan, said after a meeting with government officials May 2: "They put us on alert, requesting the closure of our institutes and making available additional police personnel around the churches. The Christians of Pakistan are innocent victims in this and other situations. Any pretext is used to threaten them or launch an attack." Rodrigues said some experts predicted that bin Laden's killing would weaken the Taliban and their ideologies, which could help diminish anti-Christian persecution in the long term. But he said radical Islamic groups were flourishing in Pakistan, and other extremist leaders could arise.
In the Philippines, one prelate worried that the death of the mastermind of 9/11 might invite retaliation from his followers. Another, Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez, head of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines Public Affairs Committee, hoped that the killing of Bin Laden would hasten the decline of terrorist activities around the world. "Although [his death] is a [form] of violence and no act of violence can be justified,” he said, “it's a big deal to curb violence."
Benjamin Harnwell, Chairman of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, said, "It has been widely reported that many are rejoicing at the death of Osama bin Laden. Leaving aside the extra-judicial circumstances of his death and the issue of capital punishment, the Institute would like to stress that everyone, without exception, is made in the image and likeness of God. This imago Dei is inalienable and exists even in such gross and fanatic murderers as Mr. Bin Laden.”
Speaking on behalf of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, David P. Gushee reacted to the images of spontaneous celebration around the country after reports of bin Laden’s death began breaking. He cited Proverbs 24:17: "Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble.”
“A nation has a right to defend itself. From the perspective of the fundamental national security of the United States, this action is legitimately viewed as an expression of self-defense,” Gushee said, “but as Christians, we believe that there can no celebrating, no dancing in the streets, no joy, in relation to the death of Osama bin Laden. In obedience to scripture, there can be no rejoicing when our enemies fall.
In that sense, President Obama's sober announcement was far preferable to the happy celebrations outside the White House, in New York, and around the country, however predictable and even cathartic they may be.
He said, “For those of us who embrace a version of the just war theory, honed carefully over the centuries of Christian tradition, our response is disciplined by belief that war itself is tragic and that all killing in war, even in self-defense, must be treated with sobriety and even mournfulness. War and all of its killing reflects the brokenness of our world. That is the proper spirit with which to greet this news.”
Gushee added that this event does provide new opportunities for the United States. “President Obama's respectful treatment of Islam in his remarks, and his declaration that Osama bin Laden's body was treated with respect according to Islamic custom, offers all of us an opportunity to follow that example and turn away from the rising disrespect toward Muslims in our nation.” He added that the the United States also had an opportunity to reconsider “the questionable moves we have made in the name of the war on terror.
“From our perspective, this includes the indefinite detentions of scores of men at Guantanamo Bay, the failure to undertake an official investigation of detainee interrogation practices, the increase in Predator attacks in Pakistan, and the expansion rather than ending of the ten-year-old war in Afghanistan."
Gushee said, “We also now have the opportunity for national reflection on how our broader military and foreign policies--including the placement of our troops throughout the largely Muslim Arab world, our posture on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and our regular military interventions around the world, create a steady supply of new enemies.”
“All people of good will should be pleased that bin Laden is no longer a personal threat, and that his death may further weaken terrorist plans and aspirations,” wrote Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, “but revenge is not a worthy motivation for justice, and celebration in the streets is not a worthy response.
“Should we be glad that forces of the United States military have the means, the will, and the opportunity to remove this threat? Of course we should,” Mohler added. “Should we be hopeful that such an action will serve as a warning to others who might plan similar actions? Of course. Should we find some degree of moral satisfaction in the fact that bin Laden did not die a natural death outside the reach of human justice? Yes, of course.
“But open patriotic celebration in the streets? That looks far more like revenge in the eyes of a watching world, and it looks far more like we are simply taking satisfaction in the death of an enemy. That kind of revenge just produces greater numbers of enemies.”