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Friday, May 01, 2009

Is Torture Always Evil to the Catholic Church?

Here is the sole entry that I can find in the Catechism that expressly says anything about torture:
2297 Kidnapping and hostage taking bring on a reign of terror; by means of threats they subject their victims to intolerable pressures. They are morally wrong. Terrorism threatens, wounds, and kills indiscriminately; it is gravely against justice and charity. 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. Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law.
Let's assume for the sake of argument that something like waterboarding is always torture, regardless of how it is administered (we, the U.S., apparently give prior assurrance to the person being waterboarded that he will not be allowed to drown, though he might feel that way).  Even with this presumption, I'm at a complete loss as to how the above from the Catechism is in any way run afoul or violated if the purpose of waterboarding a terrorist is to extract detailed information about an attack that said terrorist has threatened to be imminent, e.g., Khalid Shaikh Muhammed and the L.A. Library Tower.  Because we're talking about a future event that has been promised to occur, the information being sought from the terrorist cannot be logically regarded as a confession. 

Seems to me that Catholic opponents to interrogation by pain infliction are going to have to come up with a better argument than an assertion that the Church has declared torture to be an intrinsic evil, regardless of circumstance.  It just isn't true, as underscored by a plain reading of the above quoted passage from the Catechism. 

Update: Tom McKenna refutes the dubious claim that Pope John Paul II declared "torture" to be intrinsically evil in the encyclical letter Veritatis Splendor.

1 comment:

Mark in Spokane said...

Thanks for posting this -- I've been looking for just this kind of analysis and you're the first place I've found it. Great work!