What is the Roman Catholic point of view regarding spies who commit suicide in order to avoid capture?
According to the Catholic Church suicide constitutes serious matter and is truly offensive before God.
But then gravity of matter is only one of the three requirements for a mortal sin — the others being sufficient reflection and full consent of the will. And it is here that the Church in modern times adopts a more nuanced approach with regard to someone who takes his own life.
Grave psychological disturbances, grave fear of hardship, suffering or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide. The psychological fear of capture and /or torture can also mitigate the capability before God.
For such reasons the Church now allows suicide individuals to have a Christian funeral in a Catholic Church. I have assisted at the funeral of many suicide victims in various Catholic Church funerals. In the end , it is only God who can judge these cases, as he is the only one who is the possession of all the pertinent information involving such circumstances. We are not privy to the all information that goes on within a soul! This is between God and the individual soul; we can only make a logical conclusion based on what we know, where as God being all merciful and possesses knowledge that which is unknown to us.
If one commits suicide simply because he does not what to be captured and there exists no psychological fear within his soul (say about the possibility of being tortured) then his suicide is definitively a mortal sin. But then, only God knows the exact intricate dealings within souls. For example, even after a suicide pill, is swallowed, one can still repent of killing oneself.
Suicide has always been considered by the Catholic Church as a grave offense, which is one of the elements that constitutes mortal sin. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “It is God who remains the sovereign master of life. … We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of” (No. 2280).
But gravity of matter, of course, is only one of the three requirements for a mortal sin — the others being sufficient reflection and full consent of the will. And it is here that the church now adopts a more nuanced approach with regard to someone who takes his own life. When I was first ordained a priest (in 1966) the church normally did not permit a funeral Mass or burial in a Catholic cemetery for someone who had taken his own life. But that is no longer so.
As this same catechism (promulgated by St. John Paul II in 1992) says: “Grave psychological disturbances, anguish or grave fear of hardship, suffering or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide. We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives” (Nos. 2282-83).
Commonly, then, in the present day the church gives the benefit of the doubt to a suicide victim and grants a Catholic funeral and burial. The church makes the pastoral judgment that there may well have been mitigating circumstances and that the person — due to severe depression or mental illness — may not have been capable of making that decision with full freedom. - Suicide and mortal sin/ What is true forgiveness?
Suicide of spies or other war participants (British pilots) can never be seen as a self-sacrifice rather than self-murder! If there is no personal mitigating circumstances, then suicide is taking one’s life and is morally not permitted.
Suicide simply in order to avoid capture is an unacceptable reason for taking one’s life.