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Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Torture Debate - Pt. IV (Roundup)

I am reluctant to post again on this topic but at the request of a reader, for the sake of documentation and aiding the combox discussion, here is a roundup of recent responses on the topic over the course of the past week:

Fr. Brian Harrison

On October 19, Fr. Brian Harrison informed Tom McKenna (Seeking Justice) that the second part of his article has been published in Living Tradition:

Since your comment mentions and links my last year's letter to "Crisis" commenting on Mark Shea's article on torture, you and your readers (and perhaps even Mr. Shea) may be interested to read my much more extensive two-part article on the morality of torture which has since been published in Living Tradition. Mr. Shea's Crisis article was a big factor in prompting me to research this difficult and unpleasant subject much more thoroughly. Part I of my article deals with the teaching of Sacred Scripture regarding the ethics of torture, while Part II deals with the witness of Tradition and Magisterium. My bottom line is that you are right and Mr. Shea is wrong. As I see it, the authentic (and much less the infallible) magisterium, correctly understood, does NOT clearly condemn as intrinsically evil the direct (intentional) infliction of severe bodily pain. Mr. Shea's position seems to me a good example of what has been described as "magisterial fundamentalism" (interpreting magisterial statements in a superficial, literalist way without taking account of their literary and historical context, and the previous history of Scripture and Traditon on the subject). The links to my two-part article are:

Torture and Corporal Punishment as a Problem in Catholic Moral Theology: Part I - The Witness of Sacred Scripture

Torture and Corporal Punishment as a Problem in Catholic Moral Theology: Part II. The Witness of Tradition and Magisterium

Sincerely, Fr. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., S.T.D. Associate Professor of Theology, Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, Ponce, Puerto Rico

Parallel discussions to Harrison's debate:

  1. I Shawn McElhinney has written a substantial three-part post on the subject in On Torture and General Norms of Theological Interpretation Contra Certain "Apologist" Fundamentalist Hermeneutics; Pt. II; Pt. III) Rerum Novarum. Oct. 13, 2006.
    -- Response: Who Speaks for the Church?; More Thoughts on the History of Torture - Scott Carson (The Examined Life).
    -- On Torture and General Norms Revisited: Reply to Scott Carson, by I. Shawn McElhinney. Rerum Novarum Oct. 25, 2006.

  2. Michael Liccione (Sacramentum Vitae): Why her condemning torture doesn't discredit the Catholic Church Oct. 15, 2006; The branch theorists join the discontinuants Oct. 21, 2006.
    -- Response: More on Torture and the Problems With Trying To Discount the Historical Record Explicitly or Otherwise, by I. Shawn McElhinney. Rerum Novarum Nov. 1, 2006.
    -- Torturing Heretics Again, by Michael Liccione. Sacramentum Vitae Nov. 4, 2006.
    -- On Torture, the Limitations of Dignitatis Humanae, Logic, Etc.:, by I. Shawn McElhinney. Rerum Novarum Nov. 14, 2006.

Two fellow Catholic apologists have weighed in on this as well:

  • On October 24, 2006, Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong weighed in on the matter with The Controversial "Torture" Issue as Related to Catholic Development of Doctrine on the Treatment of Heretics, Cor ad cor loquitur Oct 24, 2006. Dave responded to Scott Carson and offered a supportive appraisal of Fr. Harrison.

  • Doubts About Torture, by Jimmy Akin. October 26, 2006. Jimmy admits he has not been keeping up with the debate, but "[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." He goes on to offer his thoughts on the possibility of a Responsum ad Dubium from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on this issue (not likely - "Unlike Catholic Answers, the Holy See is not in the business of running a Q & A service"):
    . . . There have been a number of statements in Magisterial and semi-Magisterial documents condemning torture, but these do not offer technical definitions of what torture is, and having a good definition is a precondition for formulating a solid response to finely posed moral questions on the topic.

    If Rush Limbaugh were commenting on the situation, he might--in his own characteristic idiom--refer to such brief condemnations as acts of "drive-by Magisterium" that condemn torture in a brief manner that does not pause to explain in technical detail what torture is or allow finely-tuned moral questions to be answered about it.

    While one would find such a characterization by Rush to display "a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness that we find unacceptable," such Magisterial acts express a deep moral intuition that torture is wrong, but they have not thus far meditated on this intuition to the point that technical questions can be answered about it. . . .

    The truth is that at this point we don't have a good definition for torture--one that will allow it to be distinguished from other uses of the infliction of pain (mental or physical) to ensure compliance with various goals--and so at present moral theologians have the liberty to hash out the question until the issue matures to the point that, should it be warranted, an official response would make sense.

    Readers are referred as well to a 2004 discussion on Akin's blog on this subject - What about Torture? June 28, 2004:
    The Catechism's discussion of torture (CCC 2298) focuses significantly on the motive that is being pursued in different acts of torture. If it means us to understand that having a particular motive is necessary for an act to count as torture then it might turn out that some acts commonly described as torture are in fact not torture--just as some acts commonly described as stealing are not actually the sin of stealing, such as taking food to feed one's family during a time of starvation when the person who initially had the food has plenty. The same might turn out to be true of torture ( i.e., not everything that looks like torture would be the sin of torture).

    For example, the Catechism's list of motives for torture does not mention the use of physical pressure to obtain information needed to save innocent lives. It thus might turn out that it is not torture to twist a terrorist's arm behind him and demand that he tell you where he planted a bomb so that it can be defused and innocents can be saved. Certainly the kind of things that Jack Bauer may do on 24 are very different morally from the kinds of things that happened in Soviet prisons.

    I would be disinclined to go the route of saying that torture is not always wrong. I think that the Church is pretty clearly indicating in its recent documents that it wants the word "torture" used in such a way that torture is always wrong. However, I don't think that the Magisterium has yet thoroughly worked out all the kinds of "hard case" situations one can imagine and whether they count as torture.

Finally getting back to the torture discussion - Mark Shea responds to Shawn McElhinnney, Dave Armstrong and the "Coalition for Fog" in a roundabout manner. As before, Victor Morton and company are imbued with the most dubious of motives, of being "driven by an agenda to try to liquidate John Paul's teaching," and "just like Catholics for a Free Choice, laboring to persuade Catholics to ignore that teaching [on torture] using much the same sort of rhetorical trickery."

Mark goes on to portrays his dispute with the 'Coalition' thus:

Armstrong, it is worth noting again, does not seem to me to be engaged in this project of simply trying to ignore John Paul. I think he misunderstands me to some degree, given that he seems to be under the impression I think the Magisterial teaching is infallibly defined, and given that he seems to be under the impression that the argument is about what acts constitute torture. That's not what the discusssion, at least with Coalition types, is about. The discussion is not about defining torture (when we are talking about Veritatis Splendor). It is an argument rather between those who say "Assuming we all agree that X is torture, X is *always* wrong by its nature" and those who say, "Assuming X is torture, X is sometimes (such as when the Bush Administration wants to do it) OK." The Church's teaching is that torture is *always* wrong. Always. Without exception or excuse.

No. VS is not an infallible definition. It is, however, an authoritative teaching. That it is a recent development is of absolutely no consequence to our obligation to obey it. That it presents difficulties to Fr. Harrison is of absolutely no consequence in our obligation to obey it. That other issues, like slavery, present difficulties to Cardinal Dulles, is of absolutely no consequence to our obligation to obey it. But this, in the end, is all the Coalition has going for it as it labors to persuade, if not other Catholics, at least each other that those who advocate obedience to the Magisterium are idiots who have failed to split the difference between past practice and present teaching.

Dave Armstrong took Mark to task in his combox, requesting evidence to back up his portrayal of his critics as such. Like Dave, I think Mark's portrayal bears little relation to the actual participants involved. There is simply no question as to what Fr. Harrison himself thinks of torture and its moral worth in his theological analysis of the subject. I would add that, to express sympathy for (and to take seriously) Fr. Harrison's comprehensive analysis of this issue and criticism of Shea's approach does not necessarily render one a practioner of "rhetorical trickery," out to "liquidate John Paul II's teaching," or to argue that "assuming X is torture, X is sometimes (such as when the Bush Administration wants to do it) OK." Mark, wholly convinced this is the case, is invited to point out specifically where the 'Coalition for Fog' fits this description. Personally I think his post vindicates Carson's criticism of the problems inherent in his approach ("Just Say It LOUDER", (The Examined Life). Oct. 17, 2006).

I look forward to the continued exchange btw/ Scott Carson, Shawn McElhinney & David Armstrong -- and perhaps Michael Liccione's interaction with them as well. It is to their credit that they are engaging this issue and even at times expressing very real disagreements in the manner that they have.

And I'll echo Dave Armstrong's suggestion to his own readers: read Cardinal Dulles, read Fr. Harrison -- because Fr. Harrison touches on practically all the arguments put forth by the "Coalition," and can only serve to inform this discussion.

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