By Dave Armstrong
I agree with what my friend Christopher Blosser had to say in his article in First Things:
I have little respect for those who cavalierly lobby in defense of waterboarding — or, for that matter, those who who bring a cudgel to the discussion — tar-and-feathering as the “Rubber Hose Right” (to borrow one well-known term) anyone who raises doubts about fundamentalist proof-texting from John Paul II’s Veritatis Splendour that torture, like slavery, is “intrinsically evil”, end of story. ( Cardinal Dulles noted himself in First Things danger of approaching that particular passage in such a manner ).
I have considerably more respect for Catholic apologists like Jimmy Akin and Fr. Harrison, who address the issue with humility and trepidation, acknowledging the lack of clarity. Father Harrison in particular can be commended for taking into account the width and breadth of Church history and papal teaching.
Nonetheless, it has been five years of predominantly lay Catholics — some very prominent — in open dispute and confusion on the matter. The positions of both sides has been articulated such that, every time this debate resurfaces in the blogging world, one can predict from memory the various points raised and tactics employed.
I also strongly agree with Jimmy Akin's statement in one of his excellent, characteristically thoughtful and measured articles on the topic (from October 2006):
[having] briefly chatted with Mark about the matter, my impression is that his position is within the permitted range of Catholic moral thought on this, though his is not the only position within the permitted range of Catholic moral thought.” - See more at: http://the-american-catholic.com/2010/01/22/separating-the-wheat-from-the-chaff-in-the-great-torture-debate/#sthash.cMFb1y5p.dpuf
I haven't been keeping up with this debate, including what Mark [Shea] has written about it, . . . I have briefly chatted with Mark about the matter, and my impression is that his position is within the permitted range of Catholic moral thought on this, though his is not the only position within the permitted range of Catholic moral thought.
Briefly, as to my position: yes, of course I (with the Church) oppose torture as intrinsically evil. The relevant question to be discussed, however, is: "what is torture in the first place?" It comes down to definition. And that discussion is (surprisingly or not) an immensely complex one, not simple and absolutely clear-cut as many people seem to be asserting in the present hothouse [so-called, pseudo] "debates" [choke] on the topic.
This is what Fr. Harrison, Jimmy Akin, and Christopher Blosser recognize and deal with in their treatments: where the serious, adult conversation truly lies, and that's why their articles are worth anyone's time to work through and ponder. Don't just read the mutual recriminations and shouting matches. Ignore them like the plague, is my advice (for whatever it is worth).
Someone has to try to foster calm, rational discussion on this topic. What goes on in so many venues is both outrageous and ridiculous. Little is accomplished and folks become estranged on a stupid basis, having (in many cases) mutually misunderstood each other's position all along, or with one party demonizing the other on inadequate (and most uncharitable) grounds from the get-go.
Not all interrogation is torture. Some no doubt is (as secular organizations obviously do not always follow Catholic ethics). I imagine that likely some is, in point of fact, as to what has occurred. I don't claim to know all the answers and ins and outs of this (anymore than Fr. Harrison and Jimmy Akin do or claim to have). I think very few make that claim or do in fact know the answers.
But I know that there are lines here that can be rationally discussed within an orthodox Catholic, magisterial perspective as to the ethical character of different actions. My position is partly agnostic: it's a complex ethical matter and thus it is all the more the case that we ought not to demonize one another. It's the demonization and hyper-polemicizing of the issue that I detest.
Here are the further resources (if other articles of a similar dispassionate, non-polemical nature are discovered, I will gladly add them to the list):
The Controversial "Torture" Issue as Related to Catholic Development of Doctrine on the Treatment of Heretics [Dave Armstrong, 24 Oct. 2006]
Waterboarding: Pro and Con [extensive discussion on my Facebook page as to whether it is "torture" and therefore, intrinsically wrong; 5 May 2014]
Jesus' Parabolic and Analogical Reference to "Torturers" in Matthew 18:34, as a Relevant Consideration in Arguments Over the Ethics of Waterboarding and Coercive or Corporal Punishment in General [Dave Armstrong, 7 May 2014]
Torture and Punishment as a Problem in Catholic Moral Theology: Part I. The Witness of Sacred Scripture (Fr. Brian W. Harrison)
Torture and Punishment as a Problem in Catholic Moral Theology: Part II. The Witness of Tradition and Magisterium (Fr. Brian W. Harrison)
Clarification on the Definition of "Torture" (Fr. Brian W. Harrison)
The Church and Torture (Fr. Brian W. Harrison, This Rock, Dec. 2006)
Separating the Wheat from the Chaff in the Great Torture Debate (Christopher Blosser, The American Catholic, 22 Jan. 2010)
Catholic Advocacy of Torture: A Teaching Moment for the Catholic Bishops? (Christopher Blosser, First Things, 12 Feb. 2010)
What About Torture? (Jimmy Akin, 28 June 2004)
Doubts About Torture (Jimmy Akin, 26 Oct. 2006)
Defining Torture: An Initial Exploration (Jimmy Akin, Nov. 2006)
Defining Torture: Proposing A Definition (Jimmy Akin, Nov. 2006)
Defining Torture: One More Thought (Jimmy Akin, Nov. 2006)
Interrogational Torture (Patrick Lee, American Journal of Jurisprudence: Vol. 51: Issue 1, Article 5; 2006; not sure if the author is a Catholic, but it is a thoughtful article)
[see also the accompanying Facebook discussion]
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