"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

Friday, October 13, 2006

He Should Have Been a Lawyer

And I thought only lawyers engaged in routine hyperbole, mistatement, and mud-slinging. I had no idea a self-professed apologist like Papa Mark could do it like the best of sleaziest lawyers. You missed your calling, son.

Ahem. I have not changed anything in my view about torture. I don't think it to be a particularly useful or necessary practice. But when that hypothetical terrorist knows where the hypothetical hidden suitcase nuke is, would forcing him to tell us where it is really be "intrinsically evil?" It's not consequentialism to suggest that his bodily comfort and dignity do not confer on him a right to withold information that would save thousands of innocent lives.

Nevertheless, I simply made the point that it is not reasonable to maintain that the new teaching is infallible when the Church unquestionably never classified use of physical compulsion as an intrinsic evil that could never be justified.

I have two problems with Shea's pontifications:

1) Shea's premise is weak, namely the assertion that the Church teaches that "torture is intrinsically evil." This assertion is supported by exactly ONE document: Veritatis Splendor. Gaudium et spes, to which VS refers, does not itself call torture intrinsically evil. And as has been noted in several venues, VS also calls OTHER things "intrinsically evil" which are clearly NOT: such as: "attempts to coerce the spirit" and "deportation...[and] degrading conditions of work which treat labourers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons." So one must question whether VS is a sound source to overthrow all the prior teaching of the Church which never saw torture as "intrinsically evil." Unless Shea is arguing that VS is an act of extraordinary infallibility, all VS demonstrates is that Pope John Paul II considered torture (and other practices) intrinsically evil which never had been so considered by the Church before.

2) Shea does not understand how moral theology proceeds. One of his comboxers summarized the situation well:
1) The Church has traditionally taught that torture is sometimes morally acceptable; 2) The Church does not contradict herself on faith and morals; 3) Therefore, VS does not really teach that torture is intrinsically immoral, and if it appears to do so it is only because it hasn't been properly understood. As noted by Cardinal Dulles and others it is problematic to take the list of acts given in VS 80 as being intrinsically evil in a straightforward sense. In addition to torture, the list includes items (such as deportation) that clearly aren't intrinsically evil, as well as items (such as substandard living conditions) that aren't even acts, let alone intrinsically evil acts. On the other hand, I'm not sure there is any remotely plausible way to argue that the Church has always taught the intrinsic immorality of torture. I just don't see any way of doing this, other than arguing that it must be so, and therefore is so, nevermind the details. The only way I see to accept the intrinsic immorality of torture from a Catholic perspective would be to deny (2), and claim that the Church can change her mind on some issues of faith and morals consistent with the promises made to her by Christ to protect her from error.
The emphasized text is spot on, because it accurately states how a Catholic should approach a case of apparent contradiction between a new formulation and an older teaching. Unless and until the Church herself provides a clarification, the task is not simply to discard what went before (Shea's answer), but to try to harmonize the two (apparently) contradictory teachings.

Of course Papa Mark and the combox cardinalate do not have the patience for this exercize and so throw out some slurs about how those who engage in this task are no better than liberals who won't accept the Church's teaching on abortion because it is supposedly not infallibly proposed. Mark clearly does not understand that it is moral teachings that have been consistently, universally, proposed which are infallible ex magisterio ordinario. Abortion is one such teaching. The moral liceity of the death penalty is another one (which is why Pope John Paul II did not, despite his obvious personal opposition to any use of the DP, try to promulgate an absolute ban on the practice). Dr. William May gives a good summary overview of this type of ordinary infallibilty. The proposition that abortion is always a grave moral evil is infallible per this ordinary exercize of the magisterium.

Shea's absolutist (and only weakly supported) view that the Church's teaching is that torture is always and everywhere intrinsically immoral, on the other hand, would, if true, be a recent teaching, certainly not one which has always been the Church's teaching, and therefore could not be an infallible teaching in the way that "abortion is always evil" or "adultery is always evil" are infallible teachings.

That is why it is important to define terms. If this teaching Shea uses to attempt to silence all debate as if it were 1) really an absolute intrinsic condemnation of torture, and 2) an infallible teaching, is really a development or clarification of the Church's prior teaching, then it is not a closed subject upon which Catholics may not disagree. It is, rather, a teaching that needs exploration, explication, and definition.

Shea thinks it is condemnable apostasy even to explore the question of the thelogical weight of these new propositions, and indeed, even to inquire about what precisely the Church is proposing for condemnation. Never mind that the Church herself takes no such absolutist view, for Shea, the answer is always: "shut up, torture excuser, and take my word for it: the Church condemns you."

Back to Moral Theology 101, Mark.


Victor said...

Actually, his latest frothing rant gets exactly one sentence before falling into untruth.

As we discussed yesterday, it is simply a cold, hard fact that the Magisterium says torture is intrinsically immoral.


And I stopped reading at that point.*

It is a cold hard fact that Veritatis Splendor and Gaudium et Spes say that. "The Magisterium" is bigger than two documents and goes back a wee bit farther than 50 years. Otherwise we don't have a "Magisterium" but a "whatever was said last" rule.

* Actually I got to the end of the paragraph, but whatever. It's obviously the same old self-righteous posturing and moralistic preening. I wonder if he's even capable of casting a dispute in terms that don't always already presuppose that he's correct.

Anonymous said...


Shea's interpretations reflect the mentality of an individual who, for all intents and purposes, believes that nothing existed beyond one generation before he was born. This isn't a Catholic problem, obviously. This isn't a problem unique to Shea. It's a problem that reflects the lack of historical understanding.

Many Catholic apologists who talk about the "development of doctrine" use that term as a cover to prevent trying to understand apparent contradictions between current and previous interpretations. It's easy and it sells well with people who aren't used to (or interested in) depth.

We have hundreds of millions of people in this country who don't understand the values and principles on which the Catholic (or any Christian) faith was built, and who don't understand the values upon which this nation was founded.

But that's what you get when "social studies" and "political correctness" supplant a study of serious history in our schools.

Christopher Fotos said...

For Mark Shea, the last encyclical wins. I don't know what to call that, but I know we cannot call it Catholic.

It must not be unprecedented for someone in Mark's position to serially misrepresent what other people say, to casually dismiss theologians without seriously engaging their arguments, and to launch almost nonstop invective while complaining about being ganged up on, as he did during Christopher Blosser's recent series.

But it's something of a scandal that a prominent Catholic apologist could be this wrong about something this important.

(FWIW, I ran across a comment by Jimmy Akin in a discussion about something else entirely: it should be pointed out that the Code of Canon Law expressly provides that "No doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident" (CIC 749 §3).)

I hope people who are interested in this subject take the time to read Shawn McElhinney's thorough post.