28 January 2010

On the Church & T0rture*

from the Catechism:

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. Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law.

2298 In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order, often without protest from the Pastors of the Church, who themselves adopted in their own tribunals the prescriptions of Roman law concerning torture. Regrettable as these facts are, the Church always taught the duty of clemency and mercy. She forbade clerics to shed blood. 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. On the contrary, these practices led to ones even more degrading. It is necessary to work for their abolition. We must pray for the victims and their tormentors.

* I have to use the zero in torture b/c the ridiculous nanny filter software the Vatican server uses won't let me open this post again if I spell it correctly.  I couldn't even use the searchable Catechism using the word as a search term!  The university & priory uses the Vatican server, thus we are subject the filter.

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  1. Well, that's quite clear.

    It doesn't usually work anyway. When he doesn't know anything the prisoner often tells the torturer what he wants to hear. From the point of view of intelligence gathering that's no use at all.

  2. Bummer about that nanny filter!

    If you want a more fully-featured search engine for negotiating the Catechism, may I recommend my own creation?

  3. I think I have an understanding of physical violence. What would moral violence mean?

  4. Threats to harm family, etc.

  5. Anonymous2:20 PM

    Thanks. What do you know, it was right there in the Catechism!


  6. Father, reading 2298 I get the impression that after the fact it was determined the Church was in error. So what guarantee is there that somewhere down the road it won't again decide it was in error on this and endorse things like waterboarding?

    Another thing that gives me headaches about the topic of torture is an oft asked question regarding childrearing. The questioner will wonder if it constitutes abuse to cause spank their child for the sake of discipline. Quite often the response cites intent, if the parent has the intent to prevent harmful behavior than it's not torture. If the parent whales the tar out of little Johnny due to frustration it qualifies as torture.

    In this scenario, since intent is the determining factor, why can't it be used to justify interrogation of adults? If you're waterboarding Achmed because of a certainty the information he refuses to give up will save innocent lives why would the intent be treated differently than if you're spanking Johnny? Yes, I'm lumping parenting and interrogation into the same pile. Well the Catechism makes no distinction for the topic of torture, it only speaks of a respect for a person and human dignity. There is no age differentiation there so putting them together seems reasonable.

    One of the things about that reasoning concernig intent would be the classification of frat house hijinks such as Abu Gharib as torture and actually that DOES seem to make sense.

    I'd appreciate your thoughts on this one. Thanks.

  7. "frat house hijinks such as Abu Gharib (sic)"

    That's one way of putting it I suppose. I doubt if the victims got much fun out of it.

  8. Crux Fidelis, it's a vast improvement over what they's have gotten at the hands of Hussein's regime. Or perhaps you feel being humiliated is on a par with having the bit of a power drill forced through your hand?

    You may also be unaware that the military was already conducting an investigation into abuses at Abu Gharib before it hit the MSM. Unlike Hussein's army, ours doesn't allow the sort of acts that were perpetrated.

    At least the Americans don't, perhaps that sort of thing is common for the UK forces.

  9. Two wrongs never make a right.

    It's Abu Ghraib BTW.

  10. Subvet, the Church admits to being wrong about what counts as torture. But torture has always been seen as immoral. There have been incidences where popes have authorized its use to combat heresy, but these incidences did not change the Church's overall understanding.

    RE: spanking. Intent is 99% of moral behavior. Parents who spank their children in order to correct dangerous behaviors, etc. are not torturing them. Now, spanking can easily become immoral if taken too far. Not every single act that causes pain in immoral. There would be no resort to dentists, etc if this were the case.

  11. Subvet, also. . .I doubt a parent would use spanking to interrogate a child. I hope not anyway! For example, let's say Son knew that Daughter sneaked out of the house to go joy riding with friends. She will not answer her parents' questions. So, the parent use spanking or moral violence on Son to get him to answer questions about Daughter's doings. Very wrong.

  12. Anonymous12:32 PM

    St. Gianna Molla is a recent saint of the Church. She is known for risking -- and losing -- her life for her youngest child. She was also a physician, whose practice of medicine was informed by a sensitivity to the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, by an awareness of the image of God in her patients. As a doctor, Gianna would have understood that some medical procedures, in the course of seeking the good of the entire body, also cause pain.

    Her husband remembers St. Gianna's approach to parenting: "The type of education Gianna proposed to me was the one she grew up with: education by persuasion. She would say: 'I can't conceive of a mother slapping a child. We ought to manage to educate them by persuasion and above all educate them, for the earliest years, to see a gift of God in everything and to respect this gift.' When Gianna proposed that model of education, I was in complete agreement. I also, in fact, had the luck to have parents who educated me by persuasion."

    This is powerful because not only did "education by persuasion" give rise to a saint like Gianna Molla (and her husband) but Gianna's own statement is quite strongly worded: "I can't conceive of. . .". It suggests a revolt of the saint's conscience against the human tradition of corporal punishment.

    From the the Church's opposition to torture, I believe that an argument could be developed against the use of corporal punishment in families and schools. Even as the Church at one point seemed to condone torture and now repudiates it, the practice of corporal punishment may be explicitly repudiated in the future. I have noticed that arguments given in favor of corporal punishment are often the same arguments volunteered in favor of torture.

    One thing is abundantly clear to me: there is a better model of parenting. And to find it, one only needs to look at the family life of this beautiful saint, Gianna.


  13. Fr. Philip, thanks for the response. It gives me something to think about regarding the topic. Being a bit slow in the brain I won't automatically jump to my feet shouting, "Aha! Now I understand." By the same token I won't be shouting, "Wrong!" So I've work to do with this.

    Monika, good luck with that. Going by my own experience, you're going to need it.

  14. Anonymous9:12 AM

    God's grace is what I need and as much as He can give me.

    Please pray for me.


  15. Monika, you're on my prayer list.