Friday, October 13, 2006

On Torture and General Norms of Theological Interpretation Contra Certain "Apologist" Fundamentalist Hermeneutics -Part III of III:
(Musings of your humble servant at Rerum Novarum)

To read the previous installment of this series, please go HERE. To start from the beginning of this thread, please go HERE.

Now readers reviewing the previous installment of this thread may find the present writer's statements stunning as they appear to constitute a lack of regard for a statement in a major teaching document such as an encyclical letter. However, your host does no such thing and approaches these matters with care and discretion using as his interpretive hermeneutic an important magisterial reference issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) three years before Veritatis Splendour. Approved by Pope John Paul II in forma specifica{1} and with heavy input if not outright authorship by the present pope{2}, the latter is an important Instruction which all who would endeavour to make a proper representation of magisterial texts would take proper recognition of. It is the Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian issued by the CDF in 1990. The parts particularly relevant to the present issue are the following ones -all emphasis is ours:

Finally, in order to serve the People of God as well as possible, in particular, by warning them of dangerous opinions which could lead to error, the Magisterium can intervene in questions under discussion which involve, in addition to solid principles, certain contingent and conjectural elements. It often only becomes possible with the passage of time to distinguish between what is necessary and what is contingent.

The willingness to submit loyally to the teaching of the Magisterium on matters per se not irreformable must be the rule. It can happen, however, that a theologian may, according to the case, raise questions regarding the timeliness, the form, or even the contents of magisterial interventions. Here the theologian will need, first of all, to assess accurately the authoritativeness of the interventions which becomes clear from the nature of the documents, the insistence with which a teaching is repeated, and the very way in which it is expressed.

[Disclaimer: The footnote at the end of the last sentence was to Lumen Gentium §25 -ISM]

When it comes to the question of interventions in the prudential order, it could happen that some Magisterial documents might not be free from all deficiencies. Bishops and their advisors have not always taken into immediate consideration every aspect or the entire complexity of a question. But it would be contrary to the truth, if, proceeding from some particular cases, one were to conclude that the Church's Magisterium can be habitually mistaken in its prudential judgments, or that it does not enjoy divine assistance in the integral exercise of its mission. In fact, the theologian, who cannot pursue his discipline well without a certain competence in history, is aware of the filtering which occurs with the passage of time. This is not to be understood in the sense of a relativization of the tenets of the faith. The theologian knows that some judgments of the Magisterium could be justified at the time in which they were made, because while the pronouncements contained true assertions and others which were not sure, both types were inextricably connected. Only time has permitted discernment and, after deeper study, the attainment of true doctrinal progress. [CDF: Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian §24 (circa May 24, 1990)]

The Instruction goes onto note the way to properly handle perplexing issues and distinguishes carefully between those methods and what is properly understood as "dissent." Those sections should be required reading for a lot of these "apologist" sorts who accuse of "dissent" anyone who does not agree with their pet opinions -based at times on a theologically unacceptable methodology which is essentially a form of magisterial postivism. Having explained the distinctions so many do not make on these issues adequately enough already, let us finish by considering where and when torture has been condoned by the magisterium in the past and helping to connect what seems to many to be an unconnectable paradox.

To start with, there is the issue of the Catechism footnote on the subject which we are not going to delve into at the present time. Victor Morton already dealt adequately with it and his approach from every appearance conforms to the prescription on the ecclesial vocation of the theologian for how these issues are to be addressed. All that remains is to situate within the issues covered, the traditional approach to the subject of torture and finish with an exhortation to our positional adversaries to show the bare minimum of respect for the God-given faculties of reason and logic.

On the subject of what was and was not permitted, again Victor Morton has provided a service with quotes from The Catholic Encyclopedia. Here are the relevant factors to consider -all emphasis is ours:

Curiously enough torture was not regarded as a mode of punishment, but purely as a means of eliciting the truth. It was not of ecclesiastical origin, and was long prohibited in the ecclesiastical courts. Nor was it originally an important factor in the inquisitional procedure, being unauthorized until twenty years after the Inquisition had begun. It was first authorized by Innocent IV in his Bull "Ad exstirpanda" of 15 May, 1252, which was confirmed by Alexander IV on 30 November, 1259, and by Clement IV on 3 November, 1265. The limit placed upon torture was citra membri diminutionem et mortis periculum -- i.e, it was not to cause the loss of life or limb or imperil life. Torture was to applied only once, and not then unless the accused were uncertain in his statements, and seemed already virtually convicted by manifold and weighty proofs. In general, this violent testimony (quaestio) was to be deferred as long as possible, and recourse to it was permitted in only when all other expedients were exhausted...[The Catholic Encyclopedia: From the Article Inquisition (circa 1913)]

In other words, torture (i) was only allowed when dealing with those who were engaged in undermining the public order and common good of society and (ii) was not to cause the loss of life or limb or imperil life. These would by their very nature be extraordinary circumstances and therefore the ordinary course of events could make a wide scale disapproval of torture appropriate. The principle here is in line with the analogy to the death penalty which as Greg Mockeridge properly noted, Pope John Paul II spoke some pretty negative words about in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae but which the Holy See itself has admitted was a matter not of doctrine but of prudential matters where people of good will could disagree as long as the moral and doctrinal principles underlying the subject were respected.{3} If this principle is in force with a greater punishment such as the death penalty, obviously a lesser one such as torture would also fall under those rubrics. And recognizing this is the capstone to recognizing what the limits on freedom are in the mind of the Catholic Church.

The best example here is that of religious liberty since essentially these Muslim extremists are seeking expressions of their religious beliefs. And in a declaration of teaching, the Second Vatican Council outlined well in a non-normative fashion what the outlines of religious liberty properly understood involved. Pardon us for having recourse to a previous commentary we wrote on this matter but what was noted there explains this sufficiently as we see it:

The foundation of religious liberty properly understood is that man has a natural right to religious liberty in the social and civil arenas. This right however (like all legitimate rights) has its limits. For example, religious liberty is constrained by just public order and the common good of society. In other words, religious liberty is not just when a person exercises it in ways that are destructive of society's collective good as regulated by what the government perceives as the "common good of society."

Furthermore, common good is also tied to what is called "just public order" as the criteria that must be followed for any legitimate exercise of religion or any other social behaviour in society. The Council made this very clear in its outlining of what the role of the civil authority was later on in the conciliar declaration when outlining what the "due limits" were in the government's rights to suppress any particular expressions which were illegitimate. [Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa December 16, 2004)]

It is now time to summarize the various contents to this three-part thread and posit our conclusion so here goes...

Recognizing that:

---All legitimate freedoms are constrained by the same principles as religious liberty.

---Religious liberty is not absolute but can be regulated by society in accordance with certain objective criteria.{4}

---"[T]he freedom of man is to be respected as far as possible and is not to be curtailed except when and insofar as necessary" (Dignitatis Humanae §7).

---In the war on terror, sometimes it is required to intern people and extract information from them for necessarily protecting society from violations to just public order and the common good of society that would be significantly more probable if these people were not so coerced. (A principle that harmonizes nicely with what DH taught on these matters.)

---Traditionally, when the issue of protecting violations to just public order and the common good of society is involved, any method of coercion not caus[ing] the loss of life or limb or imperil[ing] life (cf. Catholic Encyclopedia Article Inquisition) is morally licit and therefore not intrinsically evil.

---By logical extension, any method fitting the above criteria utilized by the US Government either at Gitmo, Abu Ghirab, or anywhere else -however tasteless it may well be- cannot be properly seen as "intrinsically evil" as torture in certain forms as those have been recognized in the past by popes and councils as legitimate.

---The past sanctioning of torture by popes and councils -going so far as to command kings and princes under pain of excommunication with matters of heresy when these undermined the common good of society- means that torture itself cannot be "intrinsically evil" unless the doctrine of indefectibility is contradicted.

---As Pope John Paul II and Vatican II made it clear that their teachings were not to be seen as disconnected from the past but instead in congruity with them, it is not possible for something previously accepted by popes and councils (within certain limits) as licit to magically morph into something "intrinsically evil."

---Recognizing the Vatican's own guidelines for proper theological analysis can lead one to conclude -safely and without fear of being viewed as a "dissident"- that some Magisterial documents might not be free from all deficiencies (cf. Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian §24) and that this assessment can be levied at not only GS in some areas for reasons already noted but also VS where it cites GS on the matter in question.

---No Catholic can hold to the idea of magisterial defectibility as it contradicts solemn Catholic teaching.

When everything is taken into consideration, the hypothesis advanced by Mark Shea and his allies about torture ipso facto being "intrinsically evil" cannot sustain the scrutiny of the law of non-contradiction and thus can (and arguably should) be rejected. This does not mean that they cannot take a strict interpretation to the various factors involved and in their opinion view methods of torture at Gitmo, Abu Ghirab, or other places as inappropriate. However, they cannot logically or in accordance with general norms of theological interpretation advance that opinion as anything binding on the consciences of others. Therefore, they would do well to cease and desist such things and apologize to anyone they have spoken less-than-respectfully of for disagreeing with them in an area where there is a diversity of viewpoints on the matter which are permitted. Likewise, those who have acted as if Mark and his allies do not have the right to their opinion on the matter{5} should retract any excesses on their part as well.


{1} This means the pope confirmed the text in a fashion which made the contents of the text his own.

{2} Back in Joseph Ratzinger's days as prefect for the CDF under his predecessor.

{3} Essentially, whenever bloodless means were sufficient to prevent an offender from damaging the public order of society, that should be the recourse. The death penalty in other words should be a last resort, not the first on these matters. As far as deciding when that last resort was or was not reached, such is by its very nature a normative issue where there could be varying points of view on the matter.

{4} [S]ociety has the right to defend itself against possible abuses committed on the pretext of freedom of religion. It is the special duty of government to provide this protection. However, government is not to act in an arbitrary fashion or in an unfair spirit of partisanship. Its action is to be controlled by juridical norms which are in conformity with the objective moral order. These norms arise out of the need for the effective safeguard of the rights of all citizens and for the peaceful settlement of conflicts of rights, also out of the need for an adequate care of genuine public peace, which comes about when men live together in good order and in true justice, and finally out of the need for a proper guardianship of public morality.

These matters constitute the basic component of the common welfare: they are what is meant by public order. [Second Vatican Ecumenical Council: Declaration Dignitatis Humanae §7 (circa December 7, 1965) as quoted by Rerum Novarum (circa December 16, 2004)]

{5} As long as Mark and his allies do not try and make their opinions binding on others of course.
On Torture and General Norms of Theological Interpretation Contra Certain "Apologist" Fundamentalist Hermeneutics -Part II of III:
(Musings of your humble servant at Rerum Novarum)

To read part one of this thread, go HERE.

Before we delve into certain key factors that bear examination, we need to direct the readers to several very good threads in Christopher Blosser's second combox thread posted by some fellow named Jeff. Having done that, let us start the meat of this thread by revisiting something we noted last month on the matter:

With secret tribunals this means the torture issue is going to come up and hopefully certain Catholic...sorts --whom your host has in mind along with others who are non-Catholic-- who want to whine and complain about these issues will have the common decency to define the word torture this time around. Because if they are gonna whine and gripe about it, if they are going to throw around a word that is not going to be defined and that's/there is a serious disingenuous element there and hopefully this time around, these people will approach the issue equitably in a proper and ethical way. [Excerpt from a Rerum Novarum Audiopost Transcript (circa September 30, 2006)]

For readers who are not aware, your host had a few persons in mind with the above thread mainly Mark Shea whom we have noted before and on more than one occasion{5}, does not represent this issue accurately. The following recent bit from his own combox highlights some of the problems he has on this matter:

[A]s Eve Tushnet points out, far worse abuses have been, quite legally, perpetrated by the CIA and our President has declared that "we do not torture and have never tortured". Such abuses have include waterboarding and cold cells. Bush says these do not constitute torture (though he also backed down on waterboarding, sort of). If these are not torture, then what you saw from Abu Ghraib was not torture either. Just a "frat hazing" as Rush Limbaugh assures us. [LINK]

Frankly, Fr. Brian Harrison's response to Mark's Crisis article on torture (which Mark titled "Toying With Evil") is on the whole quite good. He gives the impression of fudging a bit on the whole issue of post Vatican II stuff but he is right in principle in what he wrote. Here is the crux of his position:

[T]he development of Catholic doctrine over time is supposed to flow harmoniously from what was taught "always, everywhere, and by all," according to the classic criterion laid down by Vincent of Lérins. The Church is not supposed to be able to invent new doctrines out of whole cloth. Indeed, Vatican I specifically rejected the idea that the Holy Spirit was promised to Peter's successors for the purpose of revealing novam doctrinam (Denzinger-Schönmetzer 3070). And if we rightly denounce activist American judges for "discovering" in federal or state constitutions such hitherto unheard of implications as the "right" to abortion and the "right" to "gay marriage," then how do we defend Popes Paul VI and John Paul II from the charge of an analogous doctrinal activism in claiming to discover, nearly two millennia after our Christian constitution was definitively laid down in Scripture and Apostolic Tradition, that the infliction of severe bodily pain is "intrinsically evil"? [Fr. Brian W. Harrison: Excerpt from the Crisis Magazine's Letters to the Editor section (circa September 12, 2005)]

Your host would certainly take issue with the idea that Paul VI or John Paul II have "spoken definitively" on this matter as Mark seems to imply in some of his statements on this matter. Fr. Harrison's assessment in the above paragraph summary is on the whole accurate. We raise the issue of Fr. Harrison's letter to deal with one element that he does not and that is where he notes that "few if any orthodox theologians would regard the conditions for infallible teaching as being verified in the texts cited by Mr. Shea (Gaudium et Spes 27 and Veritatis Splendor 80)." We have to say based on our knowledge of this subject matter that Fr. Harrison is correct in his assessment. But rather than merely say this, we will now set forth our reasons for this viewpoint in the form of a hypothesis. To begin with, let us now consider Mark Shea's quotes from Gaudium et Spes (GS) and Veritatis Splendour (VS):

Furthermore...whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as...torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself...all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator.

Here is the full quote with the omitted parts underlined (and the preceding paragraph which contextualizes it):

In our times a special obligation binds us to make ourselves the neighbor of every person without exception. and of actively helping him when he comes across our path, whether he be an old person abandoned by all, a foreign laborer unjustly looked down upon, a refugee, a child born of an unlawful union and wrongly suffering for a sin he did not commit, or a hungry person who disturbs our conscience by recalling the voice of the Lord, "As long as you did it for one of these the least of my brethren, you did it for me" (Matt. 25:40).

Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator. [Second Vatican Ecumenical Council: Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes §27 (circa December 7, 1965)]

This is the foundation text from which Mark and others operate from and for that reason, we must start our inquiry here. And as we have written on general norms of interpretation before as they pertain to Gaudium et Spes, it seems appropriate to recall part of that briefly before moving onto an examination of that text in greater detail:

With general norms, one has to tread carefully and this is a subject not often understood even by many who are considered "experts" in these matters. This is part of the reason why your host rolls his eyes when those with partisan agendas quote too freely from certain portions of Gaudium et Spes or from any source without taking into account certain factors which mitigate against a false interpretation (and thus misrepresentation of) those sources. [Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa February 4, 2006)]

Essentially folks, GS is supposed to be interpreted according to general norms of interpretation as any document is. The diverse elements on GS make this obligation even more important -so much so that the document itself in its first footnote specifically says this explicitly (all emphasis is ours):

The Pastoral Constitution "De Ecclesia in Mundo Huius Temporis" is made up of two parts; yet it constitutes an organic unity. By way of explanation: the constitution is called "pastoral" because, while resting on doctrinal principles, it seeks to express the relation of the Church to the world and modern mankind. The result is that, on the one hand, a pastoral slant is present in the first part, and, on the other hand, a doctrinal slant is present in the second part. In the first part, the Church develops her teaching on man, on the world which is the enveloping context of man's existence, and on man's relations to his fellow men. In part two, the Church gives closer consideration to various aspects of modern life and human society; special consideration is given to those questions and problems which, in this general area, seem to have a greater urgency in our day. As a result in part two the subject matter which is viewed in the light of doctrinal principles is made up of diverse elements. Some elements have a permanent value; others, only a transitory one. Consequently, the constitution must be interpreted according to the general norms of theological interpretation. Interpreters must bear in mind-especially in part two-the changeable circumstances which the subject matter, by its very nature, involves. [Second Vatican Ecumenical Council: Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes Preface Footnote (circa December 7, 1965)]

If the Constitution in its prefatory footnote (which must be considered when seeking to interpret the proper sense of the council text) says that the first part of the text is presenting "a pastoral slant" in the first part of the text, then it is what it is. Neither Mark nor anyone else can change that unless we seek to ascribe to words meanings they do not have.

Another really elementary constituent to general norms of theological interpretation is this: one sentence from a Pastoral Constitution doth not a definitive statement make. Period. On that point alone, Mark's analysis is erroneous to no small degree. When one considers the times and circumstances as well, they would realize that one of the goals of the Second Vatican Council was to deal with the menace of communism but do so indirectly. This is why a lot of things were lumped together without distinction in GS: in large part because a lot of what was noted was happening in communist countries -though a lot of what was noted was to some extent universal in its scope. Again, the factors were not distinguished from one another but instead lumped together indiscriminately. On the issue in question, we are not talking about subjecting a sworn enemy of the state who is undermining the social order to coercion for the sake of protecting the public order and common good of society. No, with the communists it was anyone who was opposed to the government or who held out for freedom who was subject to inhumane treatment. There was no discrimination in their use of means of coercion in other words.

Now the council could not give the appearance of favouring one side over the other if (i) there was any hope of indirectly persuading the communists and (ii) if they were to avoid giving the appearance of giving the excesses in non-communist nations a free pass. For these reasons, the council did not name names and mentioned a host of things without proper distinctions made. That is acceptable when dealing with a pastoral constitution but it also is why the council itself included the interpretive hermeneutic with GS which applies to all magisterial texts. With the diverse elements contained within GS, it made noting these factors particularly germane; ergo you have the large prefatory note above.

This kind of overvaluing of scant statements is what happens when one approaches magisterial texts with the same lack of discernment that fundamentalists do the Bible and radical self-styled "traditionalists" or "progressivists" do with magisterial texts. There are two dangers inherent in the latter and they are opposite: "trads" pretending magisterial obedience requirements ended prior to or within the vicinity of Vatican II and "progressivist" sorts pretending that Vatican II is some break from the past and justifying every radical departure as being of equal merit or somehow authoritative. Both play into what Pope Benedict XVI called last year the "hermeneutics of discontinuity" and both are to be summarily rejected. This stance is hardly a novel one either as Pope John Paul II often said that it was a profound error to interpret the council apart from the whole of the tradition. This is why the attitude taken by people such as Mark towards those who have sought to follow the injunctions of the last two popes on these matters is inappropriate and frankly he should recognize this and adjust his attitudes accordingly. But enough on the first source and now onto the second which is Veritatis Splendour. The quote Mark referenced was this one from the text:

Reason attests that there are objects of the human act which are by their nature "incapable of being ordered" to God, because they radically contradict the good of the person made in his image. These are the acts which, in the Church's moral tradition, have been termed "intrinsically evil" ( intrinsece malum): they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances. Consequently, without in the least denying the influence on morality exercised by circumstances and especially by intentions, the Church teaches that "there exist acts which per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object". 131 The Second Vatican Council itself, in discussing the respect due to the human person, gives a number of examples of such acts: "Whatever is hostile to life itself, such as any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide; whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat labourers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons: all these and the like are a disgrace, and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honour due to the Creator". 132 [Pope John Paul II: Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendour §80 (circa August 6, 1993)]

Now this quote from Veritatis Splendor appears to support Mark's reading. But one of the general norms of proper theological interpretation is to consider the words in their original context and meaning. Two references to GS in VS cannot make those statements more authoritative than they already were -particularly if there is no manifested intention in the text to do so. That raises the question of what the intention of the Pope in issuing VS was and from there we turn to the encyclical itself for the requisite evidence to be had -all emphasis is ours except the italics in the text and all footnotes not relevant to the question removed:

At all times, but particularly in the last two centuries, the Popes, whether individually or together with the College of Bishops, have developed and proposed a moral teaching regarding the many different spheres of human life. In Christ's name and with his authority they have exhorted, passed judgment and explained. In their efforts on behalf of humanity, in fidelity to their mission, they have confirmed, supported and consoled. With the guarantee of assistance from the Spirit of truth they have contributed to a better understanding of moral demands in the areas of human sexuality, the family, and social, economic and political life. In the tradition of the Church and in the history of humanity, their teaching represents a constant deepening of knowledge with regard to morality.

Today, however, it seems necessary to reflect on the whole of the Church's moral teaching, with the precise goal of recalling certain fundamental truths of Catholic doctrine which, in the present circumstances, risk being distorted or denied. In fact, a new situation has come about within the Christian community itself, which has experienced the spread of numerous doubts and objections of a human and psychological, social and cultural, religious and even properly theological nature, with regard to the Church's moral teachings. It is no longer a matter of limited and occasional dissent, but of an overall and systematic calling into question of traditional moral doctrine, on the basis of certain anthropological and ethical presuppositions. At the root of these presuppositions is the more or less obvious influence of currents of thought which end by detaching human freedom from its essential and constitutive relationship to truth. Thus the traditional doctrine regarding the natural law, and the universality and the permanent validity of its precepts, is rejected; certain of the Church's moral teachings are found simply unacceptable; and the Magisterium itself is considered capable of intervening in matters of morality only in order to "exhort consciences" and to "propose values", in the light of which each individual will independently make his or her decisions and life choices.

In particular, note should be taken of the lack of harmony between the traditional response of the Church and certain theological positions, encountered even in Seminaries and in Faculties of Theology, with regard to questions of the greatest importance for the Church and for the life of faith of Christians, as well as for the life of society itself. In particular, the question is asked: do the commandments of God, which are written on the human heart and are part of the Covenant, really have the capacity to clarify the daily decisions of individuals and entire societies? Is it possible to obey God and thus love God and neighbour, without respecting these commandments in all circumstances? Also, an opinion is frequently heard which questions the intrinsic and unbreakable bond between faith and morality, as if membership in the Church and her internal unity were to be decided on the basis of faith alone, while in the sphere of morality a pluralism of opinions and of kinds of behaviour could be tolerated, these being left to the judgment of the individual subjective conscience or to the diversity of social and cultural contexts.

Given these circumstances, which still exist, I came to the decision — as I announced in my Apostolic Letter Spiritus Domini, issued on 1 August 1987 on the second centenary of the death of Saint Alphonsus Maria de' Liguori — to write an Encyclical with the aim of treating "more fully and more deeply the issues regarding the very foundations of moral theology",9 foundations which are being undermined by certain present day tendencies. [Pope John Paul II: Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendour §4-5 (circa August 6, 1993)]

Notice the pope making reference to the lack of harmony between the traditional response of the Church and certain theological positions"??? This makes it clear that the intention of the encyclical is to be in continuity with the past and show proper harmony. The reference in footnote 131 (quoting Pope Paul VI) makes this even clearer:

"Far be it from Christians to be led to embrace another opinion, as if the Council taught that nowadays some things are permitted which the Church had previously declared intrinsically evil. Who does not see in this the rise of a depraved moral relativism, one that clearly endangers the Church's entire doctrinal heritage?" [Pope Paul VI, Address to Members of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, (September 1967): AAS 59 (1967), 962 noted as a paraphrased reference in VS footnote 131]

That principle has two sides to the coin: not only what was once declared intrinsically evil cannot be recogized as licit later on if the doctrinal heritage of the Church is to be upheld but likewise, what was held as licit before cannot later be declared intrinsically evil. For these reasons, any interpretations which posit a disharmony are ipso facto to be rejected. For that reason, the interpretation Mark and his allies give to VS with regards to torture can be considered thrown out of court without any hesitation.

To be Continued...


{1} Mark Shea has likewise showed some key misunderstandings on his part to...the subjects of economics, torture[...], and just war. [Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa August 5, 2006)]

The removed text footnote went to a quoting of the material in footnote one of this posting and a previous admission that one of those in mind when the material was originally written in December of 2005 was Mark Shea.
On Torture and General Norms of Theological Interpretation Contra Certain "Apologist" Fundamentalist Hermeneutics -Part I of III:
(Musings of your humble servant at Rerum Novarum)

[Update: For easier reading, this post was divided into three parts and the posting from 10/14 was moved to 10/17. (The subtitle of the original was dropped as it would have been complicated to use it with a post series unlike with a single posting.) The other two threads were posted in sequence, linked throughout (as is our wont with longer threads for easier reading) and backdated to the date of the original posting. -ISM 10/17/06 12:29pm]

To start with, the notion of defining the terms that someone uses is so elementary that we are frankly embarrassed that it needs to even be mentioned. But experience has shown that the best way to deal with pundits, agenda provocateurs, and apologists of various stripes is to insist on this principle at all times. This is why we have insisted with greater frequency over the years{1} that those who want to be taken seriously define their terms much as we always have done. The willingness or lack thereof of anyone to conform to this fundamental principle of rational thought has always served as a kind of acid test by your host in ascertaining the integrity or lack thereof of a positional adversary.

So with that in mind, on the subject of torture we are asking those who have seized on this as a major agenda item of theirs to give the rest of us the most basic of courtesies and explain themselves. Define for us what in a workable sense constitutes "torture" and what does not. Notice we are not asking for an abstract manualist definition of the term but one which can be applied to real life situations with reasonable assurance that it provides a point of reference on the subject in question. Technically, until this is done, there is no need to take those who prattle on about this issue with even the most remote of seriousness; however we intend in the post or series to follow to touch on some of the more pertinent issues pertaining to the subject in question.

To start with, Christopher Blosser deserves to be given some credit for his handling of the issue in question in two recent postings to his weblog. Here they are in sequential order by the date they were posted:

On Torture, "Aggressive Interrogation" and The Military Commissions Act of 2006 (circa October 2, 2006)

"The Torture Debate" - Part II (circa October 8, 2006)

Those threads have combox threads and indeed we intend to touch on some of the comments made before getting to the meat of this posting. Before doing that though, it should be noted that all the combox threads pertain to the first of Christopher's postings unless otherwise noted.

Having noted that, your host pinpointed some time ago{2} a key problem with this whole issue which was recently noted by "Trubador" on Christopher Blosser's combox threads on the subject at hand:

It seems to me that way too many people are tossing the word "torture" round like the way too many people toss about the word "tolerance" or "racists" or "bigot" (and just about any other convenient word or phrase to slap a label on someone or something to avoid having to think, use reason, and be reasonable). [Trubador | Homepage | 10.02.06 - 3:02 pm]

That is the problem with people who do not define their terms: it results in very sloppy reasoning. Victor Morton contributed to that thread with some key points in a blog posting of his own over at Coalition For Fog responding to the aforementioned reflections as blogged by Christopher Blosser in the first of his two postings. While we do not have time to quote as much of that posting as would be desired, it suffices to touch on the root of the matter which is the following bits from his posting:

To the principle point of contention, and the one which I'd like to pursue, is one that Chris labels But didn't the Church use Torture? and then saying the Catechism adequately rebuts the charge...

"[H]ow can something become an intrinsic evil when the church has affirmatively and authoritatively mandated it." Every word in that sentence is relevant, and brushes away the easiest objections. [Victor Morton: Excerpt from Coalition For Fog (circa October 2, 2006)]

More could be noted from that posting -indeed the fact that various popes not only decreed that torture was to be used but indeed those civil leaders who refused would be excommunicated- but we do not want to get ahead of ourselves with so much left to go over on this subject.

"Torquemada05" from the Coalition For Fog noted additional pointers your host raised some time back in private conversations and which will be developed in this posting or (if doing so proves to be too lengthy) in followup postings constituting a post series of sorts:

Essentially the main problem that I have in the torture that [a certain person] conducts it in such a manner that is more or less divorced from both history and the Magisterium in the sense of what it actually teaches...

If all attempts to coerce the will are intrisically evil, then there can be no room for domestic law enforcement as it is currently understood. Since the Church clearly doesn't teach this, then either [that person's] reading of the document is inaccurate or the Church is in error, thus raising issues indefectability. [Torquemada05: Excerpt from Coalition For Fog (circa October 3, 2006)]

Another reason why this should be a serious issue for Catholics is the pertinence of the matter to the whole notion of what is called "indefectibility." Such a doctrine would be falsified if the Church ever at one point in time taught that something was intrinsically evil that was previously taught as acceptable. But in time we will deal with this more in detail and back to the summary of points raised by others starting with Greg Mockeridge.

Greg noted a key factor here which is not realized by those who argue for the so-called "intrinsic evil of torture" -namely that somehow it is licit at times to execute people (the obvious opinion of Pope John Paul II that this is not a preferred approach to take notwithstanding) but somehow, a lesser infliction such as torture cannot be licit.{3} This line of "reasoning" is internally contradictory and therefore cannot be admitted as a viable hypothesis where these questions are considered. Logically, if the death penalty in some instances is legitimate, so too must torture be. But that point aside for a moment, we need to get to the meat of this posting with greater haste so we will summarize the other points raised by others in two paragraphs at this time starting with Christopher Fotos.

Essentially, Christopher noted the problems inherent with those who call names and otherwise disparage those who honestly have sought to engage these issues rather than tipping the biretta, bowing three times, and incensing uncritically the opinions of some "apologist" no matter how well known they are. Rich Leonardi also made reference to the root of the issue here and why a lack of reasonable precision on this matter only muddles the issue futher and does not aid in coming to any kind of workable resolution on the matter. Donald R. McClarey pointed out another reason why this issue needs to be clarified and by logical extension that means the terms utilized need to be given workable definitions.{4} TShaw points out in a different way a key element that your host had previously noted in a phone conversation on these issues with Greg Mockeridge and which Greg noted in the same thread earlier on: that if there is a commandment against killing and yet there is just war principles, there is a serious problem logically with the idea that torture (a lesser malady than death) is somehow never permissible.

There is also a thread from "Doubting Thomas" where he supplies a helpful list of some of the techniques used at Gitmo for seeking to extract information from detainees. "Doubting Thomas" also noted the supreme irony of how according to the UN's own definition of the term, the guards at Gitmo are being tortured by the prisoners!!! We trust that anyone who respects logic and reason can see why it is important to define the terms one uses -or as Mike Mentzer once so astutely said definitions are the tools of thought- and furthermore, why those who ridicule the notion of such requests being made should be held in disregard.

To be Continued...


{1} Here are two examples that readily come to mind which are by no means the earliest ones we could note from our archives:

[W]atch those who are incapable of giving a reasonable working definition of "rights" to claim that there is one. Definitions are the tools of thought and frankly, those who are not willing to define their terms do not deserve to be taken seriously...whether they are misappropriating the term "rights", "neo cons", or whatever. [Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa December 26, 2005) as quoted in a Rerum Novarum post (circa July 3, 2006)]

{2} See footnote one.

{3} Greg's comments were of course responded to non-sequiturially by a few others and we will not entertain such absurdities since they detract from the subject at hand.

{4} Mr. McClarey also noted his own disagreement with waterboarding -a view your host does not share but we would never hold anyone in poor regard simply because they did not agree with us.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Points to Ponder:

He who makes shoes is sure of his income -he who writes books has no such assurance. [Roger Sherman: Signer of The Declaration of Independence and a Key Contributor to Both The Articles of Confederation and the US Constitution]
I realize this weblog has been silent for a while -I trust that readers will consider what was noted in the two of the three postings from last week{1} as a large part of the reason for this.

Obviously such long absences as we are prone to take at times (for various reasons) does not help with the "site hits" but we trust that (i) most readers of some blog reading tenure at this humble weblog realize that your host does not write on anything with the idea of generating more "site hits" and (ii) there are a lot more important things in life than blogging. Or as we noted in a blog posting of musings about blogging over three years ago:

Speaking only for myself, I do not feel a sense of guilt if I go for a day or two (or three or whatever length) without blogging. Initially I did but then it dawned on me (and fortunately this happened *very* early in the life of this blog) that the moment I worry about that is the moment any edge I have (if I even have one) is blunted...

I do not know what subjects elicit the most readership and which do not and frankly, I have no interest in finding out. For the moment I do that is the moment my impulse to blog my mind becomes to some extent compromised...

Blogging is an activity that can give people a sense of exaggerated self-importance. [Excerpts from Rerum Novarum (circa February 3, 2003)]

Another reason for the aforementioned silence as of late is that your host has been working for a while on a couple posts on issues either not commonly dealt with{2} or on an issue recently discussed{3} but approaching it from a somewhat different angle than many others are approaching it at least in a macro sense.{4} At least one of them (and we know which one it is) may well generate some interest but we are not writing on the subject for that reason but because it has been on our mind to delve into it for some time and the time for doing so is now at hand.


{1} The other posting which reissues a previously issued challenge to critics of mythical so-called "neo cons" to define their terms is also to some extent involved as the two threads mentioned in the body of this posting apply the same principle to the subjects that they intend to address today (time permitting) and later in the week (again, time permitting) respectively.

{2} Or at the very least not dealt with in the manner in which we intend to deal with them.

{3} This would be the subject of torture.

{4} We have been made aware through following threads on this matter that different people have mentioned different elements pertaining to what we intend to cover as a systematic whole in proposing a hypothesis on the matter for further consideration and review. (Many of which your host had previously noted in private conversations with friends and associates in recent months.) But enough on that for now.