Catholic Church’s View of Torture–Another Post in Support of My Anti-Torture Jeremiad

Tomorrow, we will address the morality of torture from both deontological and consequentialists viewpoints. Here I’d like to refer you to what a prominent relatively orthodox Catholic believes about the Catholic Church’s teachings regarding the morality of torture. The Catholic Church knows what of it speaks as it attempted to water-board” Jews into accepting the tenets of the Catholic faith in Spain centuries ago. Mark Shea writes this about the Catholic Church’s views on torture (I encourage you to read his whole post):

The Church’s basic teaching on torture is laid out in Veritatis Splendor 80 (followed by a discussion of what the Holy Father means by “intrinsically immoral” acts). VS cites, I believe, Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes (though I could be wrong and my memory is groggy this early). The Church does not define what torture is (leaving that matter to common sense and to the specialized knowledge of those whose job it has historically been to know such as police, judges, interrogators, philosphers, and other people of good will who operate in the field where interrogation and police work must be done).

The basic guidelines the Church proposes are pretty simple

1. Don’t do evil that good may come of it. [This is about as strong an injunction against consequentialism as is possible.]
2. Some things are intrinsically evil, meaning you *can’t* do them under any circumstance.
3. Torture is one of these things.
4. If you are confused about what “torture” is, then bear in mind the Church’s *other* command, which is that we must treat prisoners humanely, not merely “not torture them”. Aim for that, and you won’t accidently torture them.
5. Seek the intelligence you need while bearing in mind the above.

Some of the basic attempts to justify the use of torture are:

The Fall and Rise of Torture Across Time and Space

Here’s the abstract from an interesting article* on the history of the use of torture by Christopher Einol. I think we’ll read this near the end of the semester. (The subject of the illustration is water-boarding (about which the current US Attorney General does not know whether it is torture or not) during the Spanish Inquisition.)

water_torture.jpgTorture was formally abolished by European governments in the 19th century, and the actual practice of torture decreased as well during that period. In the 20th century, however, torture became much more common. None of the theories that explain the reduction of torture in the 19th century can explain its resurgence in the 20th. This article argues that the use of torture follows the same patterns in contemporary times as it has in earlier historical periods. Torture is most commonly used against people who are not full members of a society, such as slaves, foreigners, prisoners of war, and members of racial, ethnic, and religious outsider groups. Torture is used less often against citizens, and is only used in cases of extremely serious crimes, such as treason. Two general 20th-century historical trends have caused torture to become more common. First, an increase in the number and severity of wars has caused an increase of torture against enemy guerrillas and partisans, prisoners of war, and conquered civilian populations. Second, changes in the nature of sovereignty have caused an expansion in the definition of acts constituting treason.

* CHRISTOPHER J. EINOLF, “The Fall and Rise of Torture: A Comparative
and Historical Analysis”, Sociological Theory 25:2 June 2007. You should have access to the article if you are on campus.