After three priests were murdered during the last six months, Philippine officials say they have received gun carry permit applications from nearly 250 religious workers, including 188 Catholic priests – but some of the country’s bishops have raised concerns about a priest carrying a weapon.

In the Philippines, a person is only permitted to carry a firearm outside of their residence if they are under threat or if their life is in “imminent danger.” Normally, this would require a “threat assessment certificate” from the Philippine National Police (PNP), but certain professions – including priests, rabbis, journalists, and doctors – are exempt from this requirement as their jobs are considered to be inherently dangerous.

PNP Director General Oscar Albayalde said it was uncertain if the permit applications had increased as a reaction to the recent string of murders.

All legal gun owners in the Philippines are licensed, and a license to own a firearm is separate from a license to actually carry the weapon outside of the home.

Despite the obvious threat to the clergy in the Philippines, many Filipino bishops, including the head of the country’s bishops' conference, are not on board with the idea their priests carrying firearms.

Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao said in an interview that being a priest in the country means being comfortable with the possibility of being murdered on the job.

"We are men of God, men of the Church, and it is part of our ministry to face dangers, to face deaths if one may say that way,” said Valles.

Bishop Pablo David of Kalookan said it was immoral and “unpriestly” for a priest to carry a weapon for self defense. He also said that a priest who wanted to carry a firearm should leave the priesthood and enter the military, as well as receive “serious counseling.” Priests in the Philippines will not be permitted to carry a firearm without the express permission of their bishops.

Archbishop Rolando Tirona of Caceres suggested that worried priests learn some form of martial arts in lieu of carrying a firearm. Even still, Tirona said that these skills should only be learned as a preventative measure.

Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga will not allow the priests of his diocese to carry arms, saying, “Sacrifices and sufferings are part and parcel of being priests. It is our calling, that is, to carry the cross and even to be crucified on the cross.”

Although concerned priests may not have their bishops’ support when it comes to self-defense, they do have the full backing of the country’s police director general.

Albayalde said that all Filipinos, including the clergy, have the right to own and carry a firearm provided they meet the legal requirements to do so. The PNP is willing to offer training for any priest seeking to carry, Albayalde said, and will offer help with the licensing process.

Nothing in the Catechism of the Catholic Church prohibits protecting one’s life, even if that results in the death of the aggressor.

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote in the Summa Theologiae that it is lawful for a person to kill another in an act of self defense. The doctrine of double-effect would permit this as a person was seeking to preserve their own life first and foremost, not kill another. However, in a reply to an objection in the same article, he notes that while a cleric who kills a man in self-defense committed a sinless act, he is nevertheless irregular.

And elsewhere in the Summa Theologiae, while discussing war, St. Thomas argues that clerics should not take up arms even in self defense, because by nature of their vocation it would be unfitting for them to shed blood, “and it is more fitting that they should be ready to shed their own blood for Christ, so as to imitate in deed what they portray in their ministry.”

Speaking of the carrying out of capital punishment, St. Thomas wrote that “It is unlawful for clerics to kill, for two reasons. First, because they are chosen for the ministry of the altar, whereon is represented the Passion of Christ slain 'Who, when He was struck did not strike'. Therefore it becomes not clerics to strike or kill: for ministers should imitate their master … The other reason is because clerics are entrusted with the ministry of the New Law, wherein no punishment of death or of bodily maiming is appointed: wherefore they should abstain from such things in order that they may be fitting ministers of the New Testament.”

The 1917 Code of Canon Law (which has been superseded) barred clerics from carrying arms, except in case of just fear (canon 138). The 1983 Code of Canon Law, which is now in force, does not include any such prohibition.