"And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God"
-- Micah 6:8

"The duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict."
-- American Bar Association Standard 3-1.2(c)

"There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."
--Pope Benedict XVI, June 2004

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Fr. Harrison on Torture

Just as I was preparing to link to his excellent articles on the subject of torture and the magisterium in the excellent journal Living Tradition, Fr. Harrison was good enough to respond to this post:

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:
[below]

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

Here is Father Harrison's Part One survey on the sources for Catholic teaching about physical compulsion/ "torture."

Here is Part Two, where Father Harrison concludes after surveying the Church Fathers, Councils, and Papal and theological writings that it is an open question as to whether torture to obtain life-saving intelligence is compatible with the general exclusion of torture for other reasons.

NOTE: This should not even be necessary to state, but neither Father Harrison, nor I nor most other commenters support or condone 1) torture to exact confessions; or 2) ultra vires torture such as the occurences at Abu Ghraib.

Could Shea and his hounds show a little more modesty about the binding force of their views? I'm not a professional theologian. Shea is clearly not. Fr. Harrison and Cdl. Dulles are. Can we take a pause, a deep breath, and consider their views with humility? Alas.

(Incidentally, despite the slurs against Father Harrison issued by the combox cardinalate, I can attest that Fr. Harrison and the Oblates of Wisdom are entirely orthodox. Indeed, when I was preparing my thesis at Christendom College on the compatibility of Dignitatis Humanae with the traditional teaching on the social Kingship of Christ, I found that Father Harrison had the single best defense [summarized here and in greater length in his hard-to-find book Religious_Liberty_and_Contraception] of the possibility of reconciling the two very apparently divergent teachings.)

9 comments:

Christopher Fotos said...

Well done, Tom. It's a credit to Fr. Harrison that he would respond in such a measured way despite all the abuse that's been thrown around.

We have a serious problem on our hands when a Catholic apologist treats figures worthy of simple respect with such derision(and I include Cdl Dulles of course). And appears to get something so evidently wrong. I mean as a layman, as a non-theologian, I have to concede that it's possible Mark could be correct. But if he has the tools to do the job or the necessary familiarity with the material, he sure hasn't shown it.

Christopher Fotos said...

One brief note as I work my way through Part 2 (I'd seen the first before): Some of us had wondered about including "deportation" as among those intrinsically evil acts condemned in Gaudium et Spes, and some wondered whether the qualifer "arbitrary" might have been implied. Fr. Harrison certainly doesn't take that view (and his attention to language and translation improve one's confidence):

Likewise with "deportations". While these (unlike "conditions") are certainly human acts, they would need to be defined much more precisely and narrowly before they could possibly qualify as "intrinsically evil". For it is surely evident that John Paul was not intending to condemn the work of those immigration officials in practically all countries who carry out the legitimate role of controlling borders and "deporting" those foreigners whose entry may justly be prohibited by law.

Grant that, and you begin to see one way in which the "intrinsic evil" argument unravels. But this is one tiny point in a much deeper discussion.

Christopher Fotos said...

Ach. Naturally I cut off the very next sentence:

I believe we may conclude from all this that a hasty and strictly literal interpretation of what this passage says about torture would not accurately reflect the mind and intention of John Paul II. That is, VS #80 cannot legitimately be read as containing a formal judgment on the part of the Pope to the effect that the voluntary infliction of severe pain is, as such, "intrinsically evil".

But again, this comes after a long train, which among other things documents a fascinating alteration over time regarding torture, in both directions. A straight-line continuity to what we'd call a more humane outlook it ain't.

Iacobus said...

Very interesting, Tom, and I'm glad to have found your blog.

Anonymous said...

JOSEPH D'HIPPOLITO SAYS....

As someone who has experienced Shea's abuse (and, no, abuse is not too strong a term) firsthand, let me tell you that Shea's MO on this issue is SOP for him on practically every issue. Shea is not interested in truth, Catholic or otherwise. He's interested in beating people -- to a pulp, if need be. He's interested in standing on top of the Empire State Building and pounding his chest (metaphorically speaking, in both examples).

I'm no psychologist but it should be obvious by his conduct that Shea is a man with profound emotional problems. How else does one explain how a middle-aged man acts like a thin-skinned emotional adolescent?

Richard W. Comerford said...

Tom McKenna:

You posted in part: “Could Shea and his hounds show a little more modesty about the binding force of their views?” It is the Catechism’s teaching, not my view, that torture is a violation of the 5th Commandment. JP II condemned torture. We live in a world awash in murder and torture. Now in this age of violence Father has choosing to publish documents that purport: “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”.

If my job is on the line and my boss tells me to take a pair of pliers to an interrogation subject’s testicles who in my mind do I listen to: JP II and the Catechism or Father? As I write Catholics are suffering death, torture and ruin for the Faith in places like China, Vietnam and Sudan. We have just left the 20th Century, the Century of blood, where more Christians were martyred and tortured for the Faith than all the previous Centuries combined. Father has chosen this moment to publish his documents which, bottom line, question whether torture is intrinsically evil.

Father, while sitting in his ivory tower, is double talking. “The direct (intentional) infliction of severe bodily pain” happens everyday in medical emergencies. My unit used to have to move guys with chest wounds. The casualties could not take morphine. They had to be moved and the movement caused the direct infliction of severe bodily pain. There is a difference between inflicting pain in moving a casualty and torture. Fathers knows this – he has a big brain. I thank God that I am a dummy, uneducated and without initials after my name. I have never in 35 years ever mistreated a prisoner, a suspect or a non combatant. I shudder to think how I may have acted if I was an intellectual like Father. I am filled with disgust. Shame on Father.

God bless

Richard W. Comerford

Tom McKenna said...

Mr. Comerford:

I thank you for your comment. I will note that the example you continually resort to of pliers to the genitals is an abusive form of rhetoric, since no one to my knowledge has advocated such methods. Rather, as my latest post above points out, aggressive interrogation falling short of torture as the UN and the Holy See define it is what the US proposes. Hence, the administration intends to violate neither international law nor the provisions of VS #80.

As a former police officer and current prosecutor, I can assure you that aggressive interrogation is extremely fruitful in obtaining information and confessions which are corroborated by solid evidence.

Lastly, I think you are definitely not intelligent enough to critique Fr. Harrison, who is a theologian in good standing and renowned for his orthodoxy. That he disagrees with Shea and yourself should cause you to re-evaluate your positions, rather than go into attack mode against a faithful priest.

papabear said...

“The direct (intentional) infliction of severe bodily pain” happens everyday in medical emergencies. My unit used to have to move guys with chest wounds. The casualties could not take morphine. They had to be moved and the movement caused the direct infliction of severe bodily pain.
Actually, I think for most people the causing of pain falls outside of the intention.

Theo Nugent said...

Comerford is a dummy, uneducated and has no initials after his name. He is also unhinged. We should pray for him rather than argue with him.