Torture

It is amazing that this conversation is still going on.  But such is the age we live in.  And having been recently made aware of EWTN’s whoring for torture, I reproduce this post from Disputations, without comment or addition:

For years, people have been interpreting that one statement in CCC 2297

Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.

— as implying that torture for reasons other than those listed — in particular, for interrogation of someone assumed to have information that can save lives — might not be contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.

As it stands, it’s a mighty sketchy interpretation. It asserts that there’s nothing objectively or circumstantially contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity to torture a prisoner. All you need is a good enough reason. (And what do you know? The reason people today might want to torture prisoners just happens to be a good reason! These interpreters will, though, stipulate that other reasons — to save face after you were double-dog dared to torture the prisoner, say, or to get someone who loves the victim to talk — are immoral.)

I haven’t seen anyone even try to explain why it’s contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity to torture a murderer, but not contrary to those things to torture a would-be murderer. The problem here is that torture isn’t evil because it’s icky, in which case it wouldn’t be evil when not torturing would be ickier. Torture is evil, according to the Catechism, because it’s contrary to respect for the person of the victim, and the respect due the person of the victim doesn’t change based on what you want to get out of torturing him.*

So, as I say, we have an interpretation that really doesn’t hold up on its own terms. The fact that the very next paragraph of the Catechism contradicts this interpretation should settle the matter:

In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order… In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person… It is necessary to work for their abolition.

But someone who is capable of interpreting CCC 2297 as allowing torture for good reason is capable of interpreting CCC 2298 the same way. (Or of interpreting it away altogether; it’s printed in a smaller font, you know.)

Okay, but maybe the Catechism really is ambiguous on this point. What else do we have?

We have the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which, according to Pope Benedict XVI, “is a faithful and sure synthesis of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.” Per the CCCC:

477. What practices are contrary to respect for the bodily integrity of the human person?

They are: kidnapping and hostage taking, terrorism, torture, violence, and direct sterilization. Amputations and mutilations of a person are morally permissible only for strictly therapeutic medical reasons.

Okay, but maybe when it says “torture,” it means “and sometimes torture.”

We have Pope John Paul II, speaking to the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1982:

And as regards torture, the Christian is confronted from the beginning with the account of the passion of Christ. The memory of Jesus exposed, struck, treated with derision in his anguished sufferings, should always make him refuse to see a similar treatment applied to one of his brothers in humanity. Christ’s disciple refuses every recourse to such methods, which nothing could justify and in which the dignity of man is as much debased in his torturer as in the torturer’s victim.

Okay, but maybe that was just the Pope expressing his personal opinion that torture is categorically wrong, with some dodgy translation from the French.

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church — “which, according to the request received from the Holy Father, has been drawn up in order to give a concise but complete overview of the Church’s social teaching” — quotes Pope John Paul II’s 1982 speech:

In carrying out investigations, the regulation against the use of torture, even in the case of serious crimes, must be strictly observed: “Christ’s disciple refuses every recourse to such methods, which nothing could justify and in which the dignity of man is as much debased in his torturer as in the torturer’s victim.” International juridical instruments concerning human rights correctly indicate a prohibition against torture as a principle which cannot be contravened under any circumstances.

Okay, but maybe they’re only talking about investigations of crimes that have already happened, not of crimes that are ongoing or yet to occur.

Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” states:

Other direct assaults on innocent human life and violations of human dignity, such as genocide, torture, racism, and the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war, can never be justified.

Okay, but maybe this is just some USCCB cubicle dweller’s idea.

Torture is a Moral Issue: A Catholic Study Guide” states that:

“In the Church’s eyes [t]orture violates a human person’s God-given dignity.”

Okay, but maybe this is just some USCCB cubicle dweller’s idea.

Statements by American bishops on behalf of the USCCB include the following categorical rejections of torture:

We believe that a respect for the dignity of every person, ally or enemy, must serve as the foundation of the pursuit of security, justice and peace. There can be no compromise on the moral imperative to protect the basic human rights of any individual incarcerated for any reason… We share the concerns of lawmakers and citizens for the safety of U.S. soldiers and civilians abroad in these times of great uncertainty and danger. In the face of this perilous climate, our nation must not embrace a morality based on an attitude that “desperate times call for desperate measures” or “the end justifies the means.” The inherent justice of our cause and the perceived necessities involved in confronting terrorism must not lead to a weakening or disregard of U.S. and international law. — Bishop Ricard, Chairman, USCCB Committee on International Policy, October 4, 2005

A respect for the dignity of every person, ally or enemy, must serve as the foundation of security, justice and peace. There can be no compromise on the moral imperative to protect the basic human rights of any individual incarcerated for any reason… In a time of terrorism and fear, our individual and collective obligations to respect dignity and human rights, even of our worst enemies, gains added importance. — Bishop Wenski, Chairman, USCCB Committee on International Policy, December 17, 2007

We are opposed to any proposed or adopted legislation or other actions that would appear to once again decriminalize torture and abusive conduct. We believe any legislation adopted by the Congress must be unambiguous in rejecting torture and cruel treatment as dangerous, unreliable and illegal. — Bishop Wenski, Chairman, USCCB Committee on International Policy, January 30, 2008

Torture undermines and debases the human dignity of both victims and perpetrators. It is never a necessary cruelty. — Cardinal George, President, USCCB, March 5, 2008

Okay, but maybe … um….

And last, we have the United States Catechism for Adults, which is the “local catechism” written by the bishops of the United States using the CCC as “a sure and authentic reference text,” and which received the recongitio of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. The U.S. Catechism for Adults includes this statement:

Direct killing of the innocent, torture, and rape are examples of acts that are always wrong.

So: No.

Torture is always wrong.

The Catholic Church teaches that torture is always wrong.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that torture is always wrong.

Interpretations to the contrary are wrong.


* It’s always a “him,” right? Torture is a very manly thing, for advocates, with manly men torturing wormy men, so that girly men may sleep safely at night.

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~ by Rob on February 14, 2010.

2 Responses to “Torture”

  1. Guess what. I actually convinced my Protestant and retired military father that torture is wrong. I argued that it is more important that we remain righteous than that we prevent a wrong from happening by evil means, and used examples of Old Testament warfare to show him the Biblical basis for it. It was a shock to my system, really. People sometimes do listen.

    Anyways. I’m on board.

  2. Thanks for this Rob! Great job, as always. I was shocked to see the EWTN link. Yikes.

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