I was following the news story about Gerry Adams this week and came across a linked story on the BBC news pages, of a family that shared the harrowing story of the disappearance of one of their family. It turned out that the people who were intent on killing this man who they thought was an informer, went and collected a priest with a story more full of blarney than anything. Once they had the priest in their car, they informed him of their real intent, and that they needed the priest to give this man the last rights, before they killed him. My understanding of the story is that the priest tried everything in his power to convince the IRA to let the man go, but eventually he prayed with the doomed person and was allowed to leave.
The story left me with a question. If I were the priest, what would I have done, surrounded by up to 12 armed men. How could I have left a fellow child of God to their death.
Interestingly the family hold no grudge against the priest, and they are grateful that their relation had someone with them at the end of their life. When he was found he was clutching a cross according to the reports. The priest in question had contacted the family after a new item about the missing man had been broadcast and he had remembered the name.
On a human level the ethics are complex and deep. Analogous to this type of scenario would be if you were called to an innocent man on the eve of his execution, or in the midst of ethnic cleansing. How should we act? Is it better to lose one's own life in the protection of another? Is self preservation selfish?
I am not sure these questions have simple answers, even with the conviction that Jesus would greet us after death.